Friday, August 09, 2013

The $4 Million Teacher

South Korea's students rank among the best in the world, and its top teachers can make a fortune. Can the U.S. learn from this academic superpower?

Kim Ki-hoon earns $4 million a year in South Korea, where he is known as a rock-star teacher—a combination of words not typically heard in the rest of the world. Mr. Kim has been teaching for over 20 years, all of them in the country's private, after-school tutoring academies, known as hagwons. Unlike most teachers across the globe, he is paid according to the demand for his skills—and he is in high demand.

Kim Ki-Hoon, who teaches in a private after-school academy, earns most of his money from students who watch his lectures online. 'The harder I work, the more I make,' he says. 'I like that.'
Mr. Kim works about 60 hours a week teaching English, although he spends only three of those hours giving lectures. His classes are recorded on video, and the Internet has turned them into commodities, available for purchase online at the rate of $4 an hour. He spends most of his week responding to students' online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date).

I traveled to South Korea to see what a free market for teaching talent looks like—one stop in a global tour to discover what the U.S. can learn from the world's other education superpowers. Thanks in part to such tutoring services, South Korea has dramatically improved its education system over the past several decades and now routinely outperforms the U.S. Sixty years ago, most South Koreans were illiterate; today, South Korean 15-year-olds rank No. 2 in the world in reading, behind Shanghai. The country now has a 93% high-school graduation rate, compared with 77% in the U.S.

Tutoring services are growing all over the globe, from Ireland to Hong Kong and even in suburban strip malls in California and New Jersey. Sometimes called shadow education systems, they mirror the mainstream system, offering after-hours classes in every subject—for a fee. But nowhere have they achieved the market penetration and sophistication of hagwons in South Korea, where private tutors now outnumber schoolteachers.

Viewed up close, this shadow system is both exciting and troubling. It promotes striving and innovation among students and teachers alike, and it has helped South Korea become an academic superpower. But it also creates a bidding war for education, delivering the best services to the richest families, to say nothing of its psychological toll on students. Under this system, students essentially go to school twice—once during the day and then again at night at the tutoring academies. It is a relentless grind.

The bulk of Mr. Kim's earnings come from the 150,000 kids who watch his lectures online each year. (Most are high-school students looking to boost their scores on South Korea's version of the SAT.) He is a brand name, with all the overhead that such prominence in the market entails. He employs 30 people to help him manage his teaching empire and runs a publishing company to produce his books.

To call this mere tutoring is to understate its scale and sophistication. Megastudy, the online hagwon that Mr. Kim works for, is listed on the South Korean stock exchange. (A Megastudy official confirmed Mr. Kim's annual earnings.) Nearly three of every four South Korean kids participate in the private market. In 2012, their parents spent more than $17 billion on these services. That is more than the $15 billion spent by Americans on videogames that year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm. The South Korean education market is so profitable that it attracts investments from firms like Goldman Sachs, the Carlyle Group and A.I.G.

It was thrilling to meet Mr. Kim—a teacher who earns the kind of money that professional athletes make in the U.S. An American with his ambition and abilities might have to become a banker or a lawyer, but in South Korea, he had become a teacher, and he was rich anyway.

The idea is seductive: Teaching well is hard, so why not make it lucrative? Even if American schools will never make teachers millionaires, there are lessons to be learned from this booming educational bazaar, lessons about how to motivate teachers, how to captivate parents and students and how to adapt to a changing world.

To find rock-star teachers like Mr. Kim, hagwon directors scour the Internet, reading parents' reviews and watching teachers' lectures. Competing hagwons routinely try to poach one another's celebrity tutors. "The really good teachers are hard to retain—and hard to manage. You need to protect their egos," says Lee Chae-yun, who owns a chain of five hagwons in Seoul called Myungin Academy.

The most radical difference between traditional schools and hagwons is that students sign up for specific teachers, so the most respected teachers get the most students. Mr. Kim has about 120 live, in-person students per lecture, but a typical teacher's hagwon classes are much smaller. The Korean private market has reduced education to the one in-school variable that matters most: the teacher.

It is about as close to a pure meritocracy as it can be, and just as ruthless. In hagwons, teachers are free agents. They don't need to be certified. They don't have benefits or even a guaranteed base salary; their pay is based on their performance, and most of them work long hours and earn less than public school teachers.

Performance evaluations are typically based on how many students sign up for their classes, their students' test-score growth and satisfaction surveys given to students and parents. "How passionate is the teacher?" asks one hagwon's student survey—the results of which determine 60% of the instructor's evaluation. "How well-prepared is the teacher?" (In 2010, researchers funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found classroom-level surveys like this to be surprisingly reliable and predictive of effective teaching in the U.S., yet the vast majority of our schools still don't use them.)

"Students are the customers," Ms. Lee says. To recruit students, hagwons advertise their results aggressively. They post their graduates' test scores and university acceptance figures online and outside their entrances on giant posters. It was startling to see such openness; in the U.S., despite our fetish for standardized testing, the results remain confusing and hard to interpret for parents.

Once students enroll, the hagwon embeds itself in families' lives. Parents get text messages when their children arrive at the academies each afternoon; then they get another message relaying students' progress. Two to three times a month, teachers call home with feedback. Every few months, the head of the hagwon telephones, too. In South Korea, if parents aren't engaged, that is considered a failure of the educators, not the family.

If tutors get low survey marks or attract too few students, they generally get placed on probation. Each year, Ms. Lee fires about 10% of her instructors. (By comparison, U.S. schools dismiss about 2% of public school teachers annually for poor performance.)

All of this pressure creates real incentives for teachers, at least according to the kids. In a 2010 survey of 6,600 students at 116 high schools conducted by the Korean Educational Development Institute, Korean teenagers gave their hagwon teachers higher scores across the board than their regular schoolteachers: Hagwon teachers were better prepared, more devoted to teaching and more respectful of students' opinions, the teenagers said. Interestingly, the hagwon teachers rated best of all when it came to treating all students fairly, regardless of the students' academic performance.

Private tutors are also more likely to experiment with new technology and nontraditional forms of teaching. In a 2009 book on the subject, University of Hong Kong professor Mark Bray urged officials to pay attention to the strengths of the shadow markets, in addition to the perils. "Policy makers and planners should…ask why parents are willing to invest considerable sums of money to supplement the schooling received from the mainstream," he writes. "At least in some cultures, the private tutors are more adventurous and client-oriented."

But are students actually learning more in hagwons? That is a surprisingly hard question to answer. World-wide, the research is mixed, suggesting that the quality of after-school lessons matters more than the quantity. And price is at least loosely related to quality, which is precisely the problem. The most affluent kids can afford one-on-one tutoring with the most popular instructors, while others attend inferior hagwons with huge class sizes and less reliable instruction—or after-hours sessions offered free by their public schools. Eight out of 10 South Korean parents say they feel financial pressure from hagwon tuition costs. Still, most keep paying the fees, convinced that the more they pay, the more their children will learn.

For decades, the South Korean government has been trying to tame the country's private-education market. Politicians have imposed curfews and all manner of regulations on hagwons, even going so far as to ban them altogether during the 1980s, when the country was under military rule. Each time the hagwons have come back stronger.

"The only solution is to improve public education," says Mr. Kim, the millionaire teacher, echoing what the country's education minister and dozens of other Korean educators told me. If parents trusted the system, the theory goes, they wouldn't resort to paying high fees for extra tutoring.

To create such trust, Mr. Kim suggests paying public-school teachers significantly more money according to their performance—as hagwons do. Then the profession could attract the most skilled, accomplished candidates, and parents would know that the best teachers were the ones in their children's schools—not in the strip mall down the street.

Schools can also build trust by aggressively communicating with parents and students, the way businesses already do to great effect in the U.S. They could routinely survey students about their teachers—in ways designed to help teachers improve and not simply to demoralize them. Principals could make their results far more transparent, as hagwons do, and demand more rigorous work from students and parents at home in exchange. And teacher-training programs could become far more selective and serious, as they are in every high-performing education system in the world—injecting trust and prestige into the profession before a teacher even enters the classroom.

No country has all the answers. But in an information-driven global economy, a few truths are becoming universal: Children need to know how to think critically in math, reading and science; they must be driven; and they must learn how to adapt, since they will be doing it all their lives. These demands require that schools change, too—or the free market may do it for them.



How university social engineering has failed in Britain: Despite millions spent, private schools tighten grip on top places

Private school pupils are winning more places at top universities despite vast sums of money being spent to try to increase the number of state school children taking degrees.

Independent schools sent  64 per cent of their sixth formers to the top third of universities in 2010-2011, compared with 24 per cent of state schools – a gap of 40 percentage points. Three years earlier the gap was 37.

The figures were released by  the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the week before this year’s A-level results are announced.

Universities are due to spend £700million on increasing the proportion of undergraduates from state schools by 2017-2018, up £100million on present levels.

More than half of the 24 elite Russell Group universities are trying to ‘widen participation’. Universities have been set targets as a trade-off for being allowed to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.

But the figures suggest private schools have been responding to the threat of losing places.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, suggested the money was being wasted.  He said: ‘It is good that universities are reaching out to all schools.  ‘But the money universities are required to spend on widening access would be much better spent on making sure they are able to select the pupils most able to benefit from what they have to offer, irrespective of their background.’

Just a fifth of the most deprived pupils, who qualify for free school meals, go to university. The figure drops to fewer than one in ten in some areas, including West Sussex, Norfolk, Durham and Barnsley.

Overall, 70 per cent of state school leavers went on to some form of further education. But the figure was 86 per cent at independent schools.

Yesterday a spokesman from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: ‘We want everyone with the desire and talent to be able to study at university, irrespective of their background.

‘Our reforms mean students do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for those from poorer families and everyone faces lower loan repayments once they are in well-paid jobs.

‘Most young people understand these changes, and this year the proportion of disadvantaged English 18-year-olds applying to university is at its highest level ever.

‘And we have asked the Higher Education Funding Council for  England and the Office for Fair Access to prepare a new access  strategy due in the autumn.’


More, More, and More on the Common Core

Hugh Hewitt

I spent much of last week's radio shows in conversations with proponents and opponents of the "Common Core." (Other topics were covered of course. There is a world wide terror alert, for example, and then there was a long conversation with Davis Gaines on life in the theater, but there was a lot of Common Core talk.)

The last two transcripts of this series of interviews are now posted at the Transcripts page, one with Patricia Levesque, who is the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and one with Emmett McGroarty, an opponent of the Common Core, who is with the American Principles Project.

Interviews earlier in the week on the subject were with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida Senator Marco Rubio, as well as with Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, both of whom can fairly be described as neither opponents nor proponents. As noted, those five interviews are also at the Transcripts page.

Ten conclusions, based on these interviews and a ton of email and yet another round of unexpected "Common Core" questions at an unrelated event on another topic with Dennis Prager in Sacramento on Thursday night:

1. Common Core is a well-intended effort at school reform, aimed at building an achievement standard floor on which all American public education is expected to stand.

2. Common Core is perceived as a dumbed-down "ceiling" by some, an ideological imposition of federal standards by others, and an ideological exercise by many.

3. Political momentum against the Common Core is large and growing at an almost exponential rate. Proponents of the Core set out to persuade elites, not parents and activists, and this has created widespread suspicion among groups used to being excluded from policy making and already feeling as though policy makers are insulated from voters.

4. The overreach of the Obama Administration is greatly resented and Common Core is seen as a part of that overreach. Tying adoption of the Common Core to federal education dollars is understood to be blackmail of the standard D.C. type, and not unlike the attempted jam down of Medicaid expansion via Obamacare which the Supreme Court struck down even as it upheld the individual mandate in the summer of 2012.

5. There are "big data" implications of the Common Core, and in this environment of sudden and widespread hostility to the collection of data which could possibly be misused by government in the future, the reality of the vast collection of data on students is hitting at exactly the wrong time for pro-Common Core forces.

6. There is a whole lot of money being made via the adaptation of the Common Core, just as any enormous government program creates wealth among those provided mandated services, testing and supervision. Opponents of the Common Core have begun to "follow the money" and the MSM will not be far behind.

7. There is very little upside and enormous downside for center-right politicians to be pro-Common Core. Education reform is a huge issue on the center-right, and there are many causes to promote such as charter public schools. Candidates seeking to attract pro-reform votes can do so by singling out many reforms other than the Common Core, support for which --fairly or unfairly-- will in fact cost them votes.

8. There is very little political upside for Common Core as teachers' union are at best ambivalent about it. Many fine teachers who have emailed or called me this week strongly support Common Core reform, but the political realities are heavily stacked against the innovation.

9. Local school board members and administrators should be prepared to pause and listen to criticism as the anti-Core movement spreads, and not to react defensively to it, even if the local district is responding to state mandate. Rather, every district that can do so should stress that the Core is a floor, and that its ceiling is going to be much, much higher, and that its children's data will not be shared if it has anything to say about it.

10. Common Core proponents had better huddle quickly and develop a systematic, wide-spread and responsive outreach to Core opponents or the work they have done will be undone, and quickly. It won't be long until "Sweeps Weeks" find the right viewer demographic with "Is the Common Core Dumbing Down Your Kid?" One of the key charges of the anti-Core folks, for example, is that algebra is being moved from the 8th grade to the 9th grade. I don't know if that is true, or if true, if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or a "it depends" thing, but the conflict is going to make for great television, and pro-Core people have to defend a change that has nameless, faceless Washington D.C. bureaucrats dictating via the purse what must be taught, and collecting data on kids.

My last observation is not about the Common Core but about the MSM: It has again largely missed --wholly missed in some places-- a major story from the world of education which their readers and watchers are finding about via new media. Jay Mathews of course was up to speed, but this is front page stuff with great story potential (follow the money, again) and enormous implications or state and local politics and indeed for federal elections in the next cycle.


Thursday, August 08, 2013

Time to sue for educational choice

Schooling for failure must stop

States long ago disowned eugenics. Some have made formal apologies. North Carolina last week became the first state to announce it will compensate victims. It set aside $10 million to pay those who are still alive from a group of about 7,600 people sterilized for being deemed mentally or socially unfit from 1929 to 1974. Nationally, about 60,000 people were sterilized from 1907 to the 1970s, many in mental facilities and correctional institutions.

That such a brutal practice continued for so long and in so many states is shocking. Thankfully, that is over, barring a recent report that tubal ligations were performed on dozens of inmates without proper consent in California.

But every state in the nation continues to practice via its public school establishment mental sterilizations that should be just as shocking as once commonly accepted eugenics and are primarily aimed at poor, minority children.

As Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) asked Tuesday at a forum on school choice in Washington, “We got rid of the draft, but why do we still have pupil assignments?”

Those pupil assignments often mean those with the least ability to attend a good school are forced into ones where they can’t learn by design and emerge four years later without basic reading, writing and math skills and the character necessary to find and keep a job and contribute to society.

The schools where these children are assigned are the ones where disruptive and violent students are not kicked out, where dropping out is the norm, where students are promoted to the next grade regardless of ability and where those who want to learn are socially marginalized.

They are the schools like the one that Rachel Jeantel attended. She is the witness in the Trayvon Martin trial who said she cannot read cursive. Increasingly, she is not an anomaly, but the new normal. Watch “Waiting for Superman,” the 2010 documentary that asks the question of how U.S. taxpayers could spend so much for so little, to learn more about how the public school establishment is permanently rigged against students by the teachers unions and their abettors in public office.

Here is some more information:  The U.S. ranks 17th in the world for its educational performance despite spending an average of about $11,000 per pupil. Top-ranked Finland spends $1,000 less per student.  Japan and South Korea, both ranked higher than the U.S., spend significantly less per child. In the nation’s capital, the school system spends almost $19,000 per child and has a 55 percent graduation rate. Not that graduation rates matter when those who reach that threshold can’t read or write. On top of that, the remediation rate for colleges has been skyrocketing in the past decade and tops 50 percent at many two- and four-year institutions, meaning students in those classes must take out loans to pay to learn material that should have been covered in high school.

The good news is that there is a way out of the intellectual trough: school choice. And Washington is one of the leading examples of how it works. The District has a thriving public charter school community whose schools can’t accept a fraction of the number of children who would like to attend. Student performance at those schools keeps rising and is well above the average for math and reading at traditional public schools in the District. And poor students who received an Opportunity Scholarship to attend the school of their choice had a 97 percent graduation rate for the 2012-2013 school year. Over 91 percent of scholarship students who graduated are going on to a two- or four-year college.

Those kinds of results change lives and will also, eventually, change the culture to one that values student performance over the system.

I recommend class action lawsuits against the public school establishment to hasten school choice knowing there is not enough money in the world to compensate generations of students for diminishing their lives along with our communities and economy. But unless the U.S. wants to become an educational Detroit, it’s worth trying.


Actor Matt Damon is a hypocrite

Actor Matt Damon is a strong supporter of America's public schools. Just two years ago, the star spoke passionately about the importance of public schools at a Washington DC "Save our Schools" rally. In fact, the actor is so impressed with public school teachers that he has demanded they receive a pay raise.

That passion and conviction, however, does not apply to Damon's own children, who will not be enrolled into the Los Angeles public school system.

In an interview with the Guardian published Saturday, Damon revealed that he had just moved to Los Angeles from New York, but that he didn't "have a choice" when it came to putting his four daughters into private schools. The multi-millionaire did say that it was "a major moral dilemma" and then made the bizarre excuse that the public schools aren't "progressive" enough.

This would probably mark the first time anyone has ever complained that America's public schools, especially in Los Angeles, aren't left-wing enough.

The Guardian interview is part of the 42-year-old actor's promotional tour for his upcoming sci-fi tentpole [big-budget movie] "Elysium," which opens Friday.

According to early reviews, "Elysium" is a big-budget action film that condemns a future Los Angeles where the super-rich use their wealth and privilege to separate themselves and their families from the city's poor.  [As Oscar Wilde said:  Life imitates Art]


Britain:  Black teacher who tried to claim £1.2million for racial discrimination is jailed for hiding her criminal record when applying for a job at a school

"Diverse" morality

A teacher who claimed £1.2 million after winning a racial discrimination claim has been jailed for two years for hiding her criminal record when applying for a post at a school.

Samantha Burmis, of Bellman Avenue in Gravesend, was sentenced in her absence at Maidstone Crown Court today.

The mother-of-four had denied obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and perverting the course of justice, but was convicted of both charges last month.

She was not able to attend her sentencing as she had taken an overdose of pills and alcohol shortly before she was due to appear and was admitted to Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford.

Judge David Griffith-Jones QC branded the 44-year-old 'devious, manipulative and thoroughly dishonest', adding she was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to serve her own selfish interests.

Burmis' criminal past dated back to January 1995, when she was jailed for a year at Harrow Crown Court for a £90,000 mortgage fraud.

At her latest trial, Burmis denied she had either served a prison sentence or had a criminal record, but police had her finger prints from when she was originally arrested.

After her release, she studied law at the University of Kent in Canterbury, and later trained to be a teacher at the University of Greenwich.

She then applied for a teaching post at Aylesford School in Maidstone, but crucially failed to reveal her conviction for fraud.

The court heard Burmis made similar applications to Homewood School in Tenterden and Swadelands School in Lenham, Maidstone, again failing to declare her conviction.

At her latest trial, Prosector Ed Connell said: 'The decision by her not to disclose previous convictions was deliberate because she feared if she did disclose them she would jeopardise her chances of being employed by the school.'

She was employed by the school from May 2001 to February 2005, when she was sacked for gross misconduct.

In 2007 she sued Aylesford School for £1.2million for unfair dismissal, claiming racial and sexual discrimination.

Burmis won her case after a 42-day hearing, but during the case it emerged she may have had a criminal conviction, an accusation she flatly denied.

Mr Connell said: 'Having lied on her application form to Aylesford School she was no doubt aware if her previous convictions came to light she would have committed an offence.

'In all likelihood she would have been dismissed from her job and prosecuted for that.

'She knew if her lie about her background was found out before the tribunal concluded her award damages might be significantly reduced,' he added.

'In order to maintain the lie about her background and clear the way for future employment she and her daughter conspired to pervert the course of justice.'

In the end she was awarded damages totaling £28,500, although it is not clear if she ever received the money.

In an attempt to distance herself from her past, during her tribunal she had offered to have her finger prints taken again and hatched a plan for her daughter Nina Burmis to pose as her.

When a fingerprint expert went to Nina's home in 2009, Nina had answered the door with her face covered and handed over her mother's driving licence as proof of identity.

Nina had denied this at the trial, saying: 'I would not pretend to be my mother. That is ridiculous. I would not have given my mother's licence and covered my face.'  She now admits she lied on oath.

The plan unraveled because 24-year-old's prints were already on the police file - Nina had herself been convicted of forging a cheque to pay for a £3,200 breast enlargement, for which she was handed a suspended sentence and unpaid work at Hull Crown Court earlier that year.

She also had previous convictions for shoplifting in 2009, and theft in 2004.

Nina Burmis, of Empire Way, Wembley, was also sentenced today for her part in the scheme.

She was handed 18 months imprisonment suspended for two years with supervision and curfew for four months.


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Asian ceiling in elite schools revisited

Charles Murray on the despicable racism of America's Leftist university administrators

Last December, I wrote at length in this space about Asian-Americans as the new Jews. My point, drawing on a detailed, data-driven analysis by Ron Unz, was that the Ivies have converged on about 16%, plus or minus a few percent, as the appropriate proportion of Asian-Americans in their institutions, even though collateral evidence tells us that a fair proportion based on their qualifications would be much higher. An article published last week in the New York Times drives this point home from a new perspective.

The title of the article is “Confessions of an Application Reader: Lifting the Veil on the Holistic Process at the University of California, Berkeley,” and it is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how admission to elite universities works. It reveals what everyone involved in the admissions offices of elite universities has long known: “Holistic admissions” is admirable in theory and corrupt in practice when a school has an underlying agenda. The subjectivity of the holistic process permits the school to produce whatever admissions outcomes it wants without the embarrassment of coming right out and saying what it’s doing.

The article is fascinating on its own, but what caught my attention was the contrast between the treatment of Asian-American applicants in the holistic process and the admissions results. By California state law, race and ethnicity are not supposed to be considered in the state’s university system. But as the article makes clear, the holistic process de facto downgrades the role of academic qualifications (where Asians have their greatest advantage) in the admissions decisions, so that “underrepresented minorities” (Latinos and African Americans) can get an edge. And yet, in 2012 Asian-Americans still constituted 43% of the freshman enrollment, about four times their representation in the California population of 15–19 year olds.

That a group can have the deck stacked against it and still produce the results that Asian-American applicants got is dazzling. What would have been the percentage of Asian-Americans in Berkeley’s freshman class if academic qualifications were decisive? Sixty percent? Eighty percent? There’s no way of knowing, but it would surely have been a lot higher than 43.

California has a higher concentration of Asians than the rest of the nation, so we shouldn’t expect the Ivies to have as high a proportion of Asian applicants. But the same is not true of Stanford, just forty miles down the road from Berkeley. Same region of the same state. Even more prestigious than Berkeley. Even more of a magnet for the most ambitious, academically superior students. And yet just 19% of its freshman in 2012 were Asian-Americans, barely higher than the Ivies’ average of 16% and less than half the percentage at Berkeley.

There is no benign explanation for this disparity, unless benign includes “We think a ceiling on Asian-Americans in our student body is appropriate.” That’s what America’s elite universities have decided, and it’s time to demand that they justify it publicly. So let’s have that much-touted conversation about race, but let’s do it about Asian-Americans. Here is the sub rosa rationale for the Asian-American ceiling:

“Yes, they get high test scores and grades in high school, because that’s all they and their ambitious parents care about. They aren’t intellectually curious. They don’t add to classroom discussions. They don’t have any interests outside academics or maybe music. They don’t come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. They don’t add as much to the university environment as other kids whose test scores and grades aren’t as high.”

I didn’t write that down because I believe it, or because I think any admissions officer in any elite university in the country will defend it in public, but because something like that logic is the only justification for a ceiling on Asian-American admissions. Otherwise, it’s just discrimination against hard-working, high-achieving young people because of the color of their skin. And that would be despicable.


Explaining College Cost Inflation

Tuition at America’s institutions of higher learning, both public and private, has been rising faster than any other component of the cost of living, including healthcare, for about two decades.

There are many explanations for this currently on offer, such as reductions in teaching loads for senior faculty members, but that can’t be the full story because gray-haired, research-active and more generously paid scholars increasingly have been replaced in the classroom by cheaper instructors (graduate students, adjunct and “clinical” professors).

I prefer two, much simpler explanations. First, colleges and universities predictably have raised their tuition charges in order to capture large fractions of the rising taxpayer-financed subsidies for financial aid (Pell Grants, guaranteed loans at below-market interest rates, and so on). Such third-party support boosts the demand for post-secondary educations and, other things being the same, drives up (tuition) prices. The economic evidence suggests that the link here is nearly dollar for dollar: A $1 increase in subsidy leads to slightly less than a $1 increase in tuition at the average U.S. institution of higher learning.

That link could be broken – or at least moderated – if subsidies were paid to students in the form of “vouchers” rather than directly to the educational institutions to which they have been admitted.

One other “unintended” consequence of public policies that encourage everyone to attend a four-year college is to fill classrooms with students who are unprepared for post-secondary educations, more interested in “checking boxes” that qualify them for jobs than in learning, or both.

The second explanation, obviously related to the first, focuses on the robust growth in the number of administrators employed by many colleges and universities. Adding administrators to the office of the university president or its provost (the chief academic officer at many schools) adds nothing to the institution’s teaching or research missions. Indeed, most members of the faculty (including me) would argue that these “educrats” actually interfere with fulfilling our responsibilities mainly because of the make-work internal reporting and committee assignments they impose in order to justify their existences.

In the long run, which may already have arrived, America’s institutions of higher learning will be in as steep of a decline as its public (government) K-12 schools now are.


Australia:  Qld. school subject review considers axing mandatory languages

Language studies rarely lead to fluency so would probably not be missed

LANGUAGES could be dropped as a compulsory subject in state schools in a move teachers warn would disadvantage Queensland children.

A review of mandatory languages in Years 6, 7 and 8 is also considering whether the subject should be dropped in primary school, after Education Queensland (EQ) recommended the subject start in Year 7, once the year level moves into secondary.

In documents obtained under Right to Information, EQ says a Prep to Year 6 languages focus "is not recommended".

"Commencing languages in Year 7 would allow for efficient focusing of curriculum time in Junior Secondary," a Ministerial briefing note states.

"Consequently, in Prep - Year 6 it would allow more time for schools to focus on EQ core priorities as stated in United in our Pursuit of Excellence. A second consideration is whether languages are mandated."

In the note Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek is warned of problems sourcing language teachers in rural areas, with more than 1200 students learning the subject through Distance Education, and that some school communities and parents are against it being mandatory.

Mr Langbroek said a review into the mandatory languages policy was under way.

Japanese is currently the most popular language in state schools, followed by German, French and Mandarin.

Modern Language Teachers' Association of Queensland president Cynthia Dodd said she believed Year 7 was too late to start languages because students attitudes had hardened by then and research showed children were more receptive to languages in the early years.

P&Cs Qld CEO Peter Levett said research showed it was beneficial for students to learn a language, although there were two schools of thought on whether it made a difference if it started from Prep or not.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Business brainwashing and vocational education

I'm a huge fan of child labor, also known as "vocational education."  Almost everyone would be better off if students in the bottom half of their class began full-time apprenticeships after elementary school.  If you hate sitting still and you're old enough to work, you should probably leave school and learn a trade.  The current system prepares such kids to do zero jobs; at least my proposal would prepare them to do one job.  In slogan form: 1>0.

David Balan, one of my three favorite liberals, leveled an interesting objection to my proposal, shared with his permission.  David's concern: Expanding vocational education would intensify the already severe problem of business brainwashing.  In his view, the business world is infected by narrow materialism, unquestioning conformism, and outright deception.  Academic education is a vital counterbalance.  School teaches us to question the status quo, to think for ourselves, and appreciate the plurality of values.  David admits that some teens need to learn how to please the customer and respect their supervisors.  But this worker-bee mentality can easily go too far.  Expanding vocational education would make matters even worse than they already are.

My apologies to David if I'm failing his Ideological Turing Test; I'm happy to post any corrections or clarifications he provides.  At least as stated, though, David is proverbially straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

1. Due to anti-market bias, most people view business propaganda with deep cynicism.  This doesn't mean that normal people have a Spock-like ability to tune out marketing.  But our default response to business propaganda is a sarcastic inner, "Yea, yea, yeaaa."

2. As a result of people's deep skepticism, businesses know that they have almost no hope of changing anyone's core values.  That's why most businesses appeal to basic human drives, also known as "the lowest common denominator": hedonism, lust, vanity, and greed.  It's easy to blame these traits on capitalism, but evolutionary psychology says otherwise.

3. In any case, the business world suffers from a severe public goods problem.  Business as a whole might benefit if businesses joined forces to inculcate pro-business attitudes.  But each individual business is better off jockeying for market share, even if it hurts the image of their industry or business in general: "Let our competition worry about the health of the capitalist system."

4. Academic education does indeed instill a distinct set values.  But I see near-zero evidence that schools encourage students to "think for themselves."  Even college professors who openly glorify independent thinking rarely welcome it in practice.  So what values do schools really instill?  From what I've seen, American schools - primary, secondary, and tertiary, public and private - push nationalism, blind worship of majority rule, and the Whig theory of history.  Every regulation the U.S. government ever adopted and every war the U.S. fought (except Vietnam and maybe Iraq II) was a Very Good Idea.

5. Academic propaganda is markedly more persuasive than business propaganda because (a) people trust kindly teachers far more than they trust greedy businessmen, and (b) governments are better at overcoming the public goods problems of indoctrination.

6. Academic propaganda is intrinsically more dangerous than business propaganda.  Nationalism, blind worship of majority rule, and the Whig theory of history can and usually do lead to popular self-righteous support for the mistreatment of foreigners and other unpopular out-groups.  Yes, xenophobia, like hedonism, lust, vanity, and greed, is part of human nature.  But xenophobia is much easier to manipulate, and most adults are too lazy to severely mistreat out-groups on their own initiative.

7. Reality check: Almost no one is eager to kill for his employer or favorite corporation.  Millions are eager to kill for their flag and country.  Business propaganda is kind of stupid, but academic propaganda is downright scary.

The main shortcoming of business propaganda, in my view, is that it neglects workers in favor of consumers.  Businesses try a lot harder to shape our buying habits than our work habits.  Vocational education would help correct this imbalance.  If C, D, and F students started apprenticeships right after elementary school, they would spend their teenage years in a peer group where hard work and a can-do attitude are the path to high status.  This would work wonders for underachievers, especially macho teen males, who currently gravitate to idleness and crime.


Now Let’s Try Real Student Aid Reform

The U.S. Senate and House have passed a student loan bill President Obama will almost certainly sign. Bipartisanship lives! But don’t get too excited. Heck, don’t get excited at all: The bill will only deliver minor tweaks to a system that needs elimination, not a screw or two turned a little harder.

The bill, which ties interest rates on federal student loans to 10-year Treasury notes, certainly makes more sense than having Congress arbitrarily set a rate. Student loan rates moving with overall interest rates — not stuck well above or below them — makes sense if you are trying to balance the government’s need for revenue with a desire to furnish loans more cheaply than students would otherwise be able to get them. For supporters of such programs, getting this should have been simple, which is why — despite significant fighting — it ultimately got done.

The big problem is such programs should not be supported. If the evidence shows us anything, it is that federal student aid is largely self-defeating when it comes to prices, and likely hurts low-income people more than anyone else.

The price problem is easy to understand. Give everyone an extra dollar to buy a hot dog, and what will wiener vendors do? Raise their prices! Essentially the same thing has been happening in higher education for decades.

According to data from the College Board, the inflation-adjusted cost of tuition, fees, room, and board at private four-year colleges rose from $16,745 in the 1982-83 school year, to $39,518 in 2012-13, an increase of $22,773. At four-year public institutions, it rose from $7,510 to $17,860, a $10,350 leap.

How about aid? In 1982-83 year, the average full-time equivalent student received $3,802 in federal grants and loans. By 2012 that amount had risen to $13,552, a $9,750 leap that tracks closely with increases in overall prices, especially when considering much greater enrollment in cheaper public institutions. And those figures exclude aid such as work-study and tax credits.

Of course these figures don’t prove that aid fuels rampant inflation, but they certainly track with the basic logic that schools will raise their prices if they can get people to pay them. And there is a growing body of empirical research showing that colleges do, in fact, capture aid.

The true cost of aid, however, goes beyond just skyrocketing prices. Aid also enables massive, wasteful overconsumption of higher education.

First, roughly half of people who enter college will not finish, and many who do not complete will have accumulated substantial debt without having gotten the credential needed to increase their earning ability. A substantial part of the problem is that the Feds hand out money regardless of meaningful evidence of a prospective student’s academic ability. As long as you have a high school diploma or GED — and until recently you didn’t even need one of those — you can get federal aid.

Who does this hurt the most? Ironically, the low-income people the aid is most supposed to help. Indeed, two brand new reports show that sizable disparities in colleges’ graduation rates are driven largely by how many low-income students they enroll. This suggests that low-income students are disproportionately being admitted to colleges without the drive, ability, or both to do college level work. And, alas, the federal government is happy to let them go into debt to do it.

That said, things aren’t hugely better among graduates. About a third of people with bachelor’s degrees are in jobs that don’t require them. On top of that, there is likely serious “credential inflation,” with employers seeing increasingly commonplace degrees simply as signals that job applicants have minimum persistence and self-discipline. Those without degrees are assumed to be hopelessly deficient. That literacy rates for degree-holders dropped significantly on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy between 1992 and 2003 — the last time the assessment was given — supports the conclusion that degrees are indicating appreciably less learning or ability.

So let’s all take a moment to enjoy Washington getting something relatively uncontroversial done. Then let’s start demanding that the Feds do something that will really help: phase out student aid.


School Defends Textbook Calling Muhammad “God’s Messenger”

School officials in Florida are defending a textbook that declares Muhammad as the “Messenger of God” after critics accused an Islamic education group of launching a stealth jihad in American public school classrooms.

The Prentice World History textbook being used in Brevard Public Schools includes a 36-page chapter on Islam but no chapters on Christianity or Judaism.

According to a copy obtained by Fox News, The ninth grade textbook declares that Muhammad is the “Messenger of God” and instructs students that jihad is a duty that Muslims must follow.

“Jihad may be interpreted as a holy war to defend Islam and the Muslim community, much like the Crusades to defend Christianity,” the book states.

The textbook published large passages from the Koran, but failed to include any Scripture from the Bible. And while the book  makes declarations about Muhammad being God’s messenger, it does not make declarations about Jesus being God’s son.

“Some believed he was the messiah,” the textbook noted in an entry about Jesus. The book noted that He was later executed, but failed to mention His resurrection.

Brevard Public Schools defended the textbook and said it provided a balanced view of world religions.

“An analysis of one textbook cannot provide a balanced understanding as to what the students in Brevard Public Schools are learning throughout their academic careers,” spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said in a statement.

She said the Prentice Hall World History textbook incorporated a review of the origin of Christianity and Judaism – subjects covered indepth in sixth grade classrooms.

She also pointed out the book was among those approved by the state of Florida and that parents as well as community members were given the opportunity to review the textbook before it was adopted.

The book has been used in the classroom for the past three years without any complaints – until now.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the book’s publisher, told Fox News the textbook is balanced.

“Pearson and its authors adhere to the highest editorial standards when creating course materials, which undergo a rigorous review process,” she said. “A review of the book shows there is balanced attention given to the beliefs of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

William Saxton, the chairman of Citizens For National Security, testified before the Brevard, Fla. School Board, warning them that the book rewrites Islamic history and presents a biased and incorrect version of the Muslim faith.

“They promote Islam at the expense of Christianity and Judaism,” Saxton told Fox News. “It blew my mind to see the kind of propaganda, the pro-Islam information that’s in this book – at the expense of Christianity and Judaism.”

Saxton said he believes the inclusion is deliberate and he placed the blame an organization that was once called Council on Islamic Education. The group works with education officials and publishers to produce chapters on Islam for American textbooks.

But today, the Council on Islamic Education is known as the Institute on Religious and Civic Values. It’s founder, Shabbir Mansuri, is listed as an academic reviewer on the textbook used in Brevard County.

In 2001 the OC Weekly newspaper in California interviewed Mansuri about comments former Second Lady Lynne Cheney made lamenting the amount of time schools were spending teaching cultures that were not American. Mansuri took her comments as a personal attack.

“For the past 11 years, Mansuri has waged what he calls a ‘bloodless’ revolution: promoting an increased emphasis on world cultures and faiths – including Islam – inside American junior high and high school campuses,” the newspaper reported.

Saxton said he is highly suspicious of Mansuri’s organization and questioned why they changed their name.

“These people are dedicated to getting this language into the textbooks,” he said, noting their new name is “benign and does not sound “threatening or Islamic. “But the same people are running it.”

Saxton said they are hearing from concerned parents across the country – and the complaints have generally been the same: public school textbooks that favor Islam over other world religions.

“It’s a form of stealth jihad,” he said. “(Jihad) is not just blowing up buildings. It’s more subtle. I began to understand that one of the ways the bad guys are trying to threaten our way of life is through our children. The Islamists want to get to the hearts and minds of our kids.”

Saxton’s all-volunteer organization launched a nationwide study in 2009 to root out what they believed to be Islamic bias in American school textbooks. He said they found as many as 80 textbooks that overtly promoted Islam.

Last year, the Citizens For National Security was able to get a similar book removed from the classroom in Palm Beach County.

“In short, you are using an Islam-biased, flawed textbook that has neither partially nor fully been corrected,” he told Brevard County school leaders.jihad3

A spokesman for IRCV told Fox News they would agree to an interview but never returned repeated calls.

In 2009 Mansuri found himself facing similar accusations of promoting and glorifying Islam – accusations he strongly denied in an Orange County Register interview.

“IRCV is recognized within the education community for our expertise in teaching about world religions,” he told the newspaper. “This expertise stands from our long-standing interest in religious liberty, religious pluralism and the practice of faith within a civic social framework.”

He blamed the criticism on “children of 9-11,” who were miseducated, the newspaper reported.

Saxton said the Prentice Hall textbook is riddled with errors. He especially took issue with their definition of jihad. The book called it a personal duty for Muslims and a way to defend their faith.

“Violent Islamic groups have used jihad for centuries,” he said. “The 9-11 attacks were an example of jihad as terrorism, not self-defense. Declarations of jihad have been made for purposes of violence against Christians, Jews, Americans, British and fellow Muslims hundreds of times.”

The textbook also alleges that “Muslims consider Jews and Christians to be ‘People of the Book.’”

Saxton said in practice, Jews and Christians have been subjected historically to violence and murder by Muslims.  “Christians and Jews are permitted very few of the rights and freedoms that the Muslim majority is allowed,” he said.

The textbook said under Islamic law women are spiritually equal, although they may have different roles and rights.

“This content is confusing at best and intellectually dishonest at worst,” he said. In Egypt and other Arab countries, women may not be employed in the private sector because they belong in the home. Women are stoned to death under Sharia law in Iran for adultery.”

School Board member Amy Kneessy told Fox News she had a chance to read the textbook and she was especially troubled by the section about how Muslims treat women.

“I was really disheartened,” she said. “To see such a blatant misportrayal of how women are treated in Muslim countries, I found disconcerting.”

Kneessy said there seems to be a double-standard and found evidence of bias in a number of passages – especially when it came to religious wars.

“When wars were involving Jewish people or Christians, some very hard adjectives were used – like ‘massacre,’” she said. “Whereas when it was a Muslim group, it was ‘occupy’ or a very innocuous term.”

She said the school has an obligation to be fair and balanced when teaching history.

“War is never clean and tidy,” she said. “Wars are bloody. People die and bad things happen. The facts need to be reported fairly from all perspectives.”

Kneessy said she plans on asking the entire school board to reevaluate the textbook.

“I am concerned it is more ammunition that continues to water down what this country was founded on,” she said. “This country was founded with Christian values. God was very much a part of our government. When you take the religious context out of it, then you take away the very heart of what this country was founded on.”


Monday, August 05, 2013

UC Motto Should Be: Where's Mine?

John Pike -- the University of California, Davis police lieutenant whom the university fired for pepper spraying Occupy protesters Nov. 18, 2011 -- has filed a workers' compensation claim based on a "psychiatric injury." UC should change its motto from "Fiat lux" ("Let there be light") to "Fiat meum" ("Where's mine?").
The protesters got theirs when they sued the University of Deep Pockets.

Ironically, they were protesting rising tuition while telling themselves they were underdogs who courageously stood up to authority. Please, their demands for more state money were in perfect harmony with the aspirations of UC brass. Protesters set up camp and linked arms -- illegally blocking egress on public space -- because that's what they had to do to get arrested.

Pike warned protesters that if they didn't move, officers would pepper spray them. For about 30 seconds captured on video, Pike and another officer took turns spraying the chemical irritant on protesters' faces before removing them from the quad. Eleven students were treated for side effects; two were hospitalized.

UC brass launched three investigations on top of two Yolo County probes. That's five investigations for an incident memorialized on video. A task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso intoned that the incident "should and could have been prevented." Those probes cost UC about $1 million.

The Yolo County district attorney noted that officers may use pepper spray when they encounter "active" resistance, but Pike's conduct "was not objectively reasonable," even if officers believed they were surrounded by a hostile mob. The DA also said there was insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges. By then, UC Davis had fired Pike.

Eventually, the American Civil Liberties Union and 21 students won a $1 million settlement, which awarded $30,000 per student plaintiff, $250,000 to the ACLU and $100,000 to other claimants. The deal also required that the university assist students so traumatized that their academic performance was harmed.

Now, apparently, it's the cop's turn.  I have a lot of sympathy for Pike. Chancellor Linda Katehi told campus police to remove the tents and then distanced herself from the raid. According to one probe, Pike challenged the legality of the administration's order to remove tents during the day.

After the pepper spray video went viral, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous publicized Pike's phone number and home address. According to his union, Pike became the recipient of 17,000 angry or threatening emails and unwanted magazines and food deliveries, which forced Pike to move his family and change his phone number.

Also, Pike's notoriety lessens the likelihood that the former Marine sergeant and Sacramento cop will work in law enforcement again.

That said, Pike earned a pretty penny -- $110,243 in 2010 -- as a campus cop. The school suspended him for eight months with pay before firing him.

If Pike wanted to sue for wrongful termination, I'd understand. But workers' comp? That puts him on a par with students so traumatized by seconds of being pepper sprayed that they blew a semester.

Maybe Pike figured that if students breaking the law to protest rising tuition can cash in, so can the officer whose main crime was thinking that campus cops are supposed to enforce the law.


Britain: Lessons in spelling 'have no place in 21st century schools'

Schools should stop providing lessons in spelling and grammar because children can correct linguistic errors on their mobile phones, according to a leading academic.  Traditional classes in English language are a “bit unnecessary” at a time when pupils have so much access to state-of-the-art technology, it is claimed.

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, said good spelling and grammar was necessary “maybe a hundred years ago” but "not right now".

He insisted that children should be encouraged to express themselves in a number of different ways – including using mobile phone text messaging – rather than relying on established linguistic rules.

The comments come despite a new drive by the [British] Government to promote the basics of English language throughout compulsory education.  Under new plans, a revised national curriculum is being introduced that requires pupils to accurately spell 200 complex words by the end of primary school.

For the first time this year, 11-year-olds in England have also been required to sit a new exam in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

In a further move, pupils have been told they will have points docked in GCSE exams for failing to use accurate English in their written answers.

But Prof Mitra, who recently won the prestigious $1m TED Prize to develop a generation of “cloud schools” where children learn from each other, said it was a mistake to resist technological change.

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement, he said: “This emphasis on grammar and spelling, I find it a bit unnecessary because they are skills that were very essential maybe a hundred years ago but they are not right now.

“Firstly, my phone corrects my spelling so I don’t really need to think about it and, secondly, because I often skip grammar and write in a cryptic way.”

He added: “Should [students] learn how to write good sentences? Yes, of course they should. They should learn how to convey emotion and meaning through writing.

“But we have perhaps a mistaken notion that the way in which we write is the right way and that the way in which young people write through their SMS texting language is not the right way.

“If there is a generation who believe that SMS language is a better way of expressing emotion than our way, then are we absolutely sure that they are making a mistake and we are not?”

But Joe Walsh, co-director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, criticised the approach.

“The skills of using grammar effectively in the context of writing and spelling accurately are just as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago,” he told the TES. “Electronic devices can suggest alternatives but they cannot think for you.”


Australia:  A Queensland university accused of spying on student whistleblower who made claims of research misconduct

A nasty little tale of crookedness and attempted coverup.  The VC of QUT is Peter Coaldrake, a Leftist bureaucrat rather than an academic, so putting the organization first is to be expected of him.  He has a track record of suppressing dissent to protect his organization

QUT has been accused of "spying" on a student whistleblower whose allegations of research misconduct have caused a scandal involving the university's vice-chancellor, the Federal Government and the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

Life sciences postgraduate student Luke Cormack, 30, attended counselling sessions organised by QUT after last year presenting allegations of apparent falsification of research in a scientific paper by some lab colleagues.

Mr Cormack claims that at the second one-on-one session in April 2012, the counsellor admitted he had been briefing QUT's Registrar's office on their meetings.

"I went in there with the impression that my meeting with him was confidential," Mr Cormack told The Courier-Mail.

He said that at the second session, he had told the counsellor he was writing to the editor of the journal that had published the paper to alert him to the alleged problems.

"It was then that I asked him if our meeting was confidential," Mr Cormack said.

"He said 'no'.  "He told me, 'Based on the nature of your concerns I've had to report this to the Registrar's office. However, if there's something that you don't want me to say, then you can tell me'.  "I was just shocked. I had told him everything about my situation."

Mr Cormack's complaint prompted an internal inquiry, which found "inadvertent" errors acknowledged by the researchers but cleared them of misconduct. The CMC accepted that finding.

But the US journal that published the paper in 2010 retracted it this year.

The National Health and Medical Research Council, the federal agency that provided a $275,000 grant to the research team, this week declared it was not satisfied with QUT's handling of an investigation into how the grant was obtained.

The agency said it wanted to bring in the Australian Research Integrity Committee, a body set up in 2011 to ensure research misconduct is investigated properly, to review the procedures used by QUT.

The NHMRC is also investigating a separate allegation of "one purposeful exaggeration" of data that is not part of the QUT inquiry.

The Courier-Mail has put Mr Cormack's allegations to QUT.

University Registrar Shard Lorenzo said: "The University does not provide information on matters relating to individual students."


Sunday, August 04, 2013

Confessions of an Application Reader:  Lifting the Veil on the "Holistic" selection Process at the University of California, Berkeley

By Ruth A. Starkman, who teaches writing and ethics at Stanford.  "Starkman" is an Ashkenazi name.  She is polite about it but finds the Berkeley admission process fundamentally crooked.  It's just an underhand way of privileging a minority identity

A HIGHLY qualified student, with a 3.95 unweighted grade point average and 2300 on the SAT, was not among the top-ranked engineering applicants to the University of California, Berkeley. He had perfect 800s on his subject tests in math and chemistry, a score of 5 on five Advanced Placement exams, musical talent and, in one of two personal statements, had written a loving tribute to his parents, who had emigrated from India.

Why was he not top-ranked by the “world’s premier public university,” as Berkeley calls itself? Perhaps others had perfect grades and scores? They did indeed. Were they ranked higher? Not necessarily. What kind of student was ranked higher? Every case is different.

The reason our budding engineer was a 2 on a 1-to-5 scale (1 being highest) has to do with Berkeley’s holistic, or comprehensive, review, an admissions policy adopted by most selective colleges and universities. In holistic review, institutions look beyond grades and scores to determine academic potential, drive and leadership abilities. Apparently, our Indian-American student needed more extracurricular activities and engineering awards to be ranked a 1.

Now consider a second engineering applicant, a Mexican-American student with a moving, well-written essay but a 3.4 G.P.A. and SATs below 1800. His school offered no A.P. He competed in track when not at his after-school job, working the fields with his parents. His score? 2.5.

Both students were among “typical” applicants used as norms to train application readers like myself. And their different credentials yet remarkably close rankings illustrate the challenges, the ambiguities and the agenda of admissions at a major public research university in a post-affirmative-action world.

WHILE teaching ethics at the University of San Francisco, I signed on as an “external reader” at Berkeley for the fall 2011 admissions cycle. I was one of about 70 outside readers — some high school counselors, some private admissions consultants — who helped rank the nearly 53,000 applications that year, giving each about eight minutes of attention. An applicant scoring a 4 or 5 was probably going to be disappointed; a 3 might be deferred to a January entry; students with a 1, 2 or 2.5 went to the top of the pile, but that didn’t mean they were in. Berkeley might accept 21 percent of freshman applicants over all but only 12 percent in engineering.

My job was to help sort the pool.

We were to assess each piece of information — grades, courses, standardized test scores, activities, leadership potential and character — in an additive fashion, looking for ways to advance the student to the next level, as opposed to counting any factor as a negative.

External readers are only the first read. Every one of our applications was scored by an experienced lead reader before being passed on to an inner committee of admissions officers for the selection phase. My new position required two days of intensive training at the Berkeley Alumni House as well as eight three-hour norming sessions. There, we practiced ranking under the supervision of lead readers and admissions officers to ensure our decisions conformed to the criteria outlined by the admissions office, with the intent of giving applicants as close to equal treatment as possible.

The process, however, turned out very differently.

In principle, a broader examination of candidates is a great idea; some might say it is an ethical imperative to look at the “bigger picture” of an applicant’s life, as our mission was described. Considering the bigger picture has aided Berkeley’s pursuit of diversity after Proposition 209, which in 1996 amended California’s constitution to prohibit consideration of race, ethnicity or gender in admissions to public institutions. In Fisher v. the University of Texas, the Supreme Court, too, endorsed race-neutral processes aimed at promoting educational diversity and, on throwing the case back to lower courts, challenged public institutions to justify race as a factor in the holistic process.

In practice, holistic admissions raises many questions about who gets selected, how and why.

I could see the fundamental unevenness in this process both in the norming Webinars and when alone in a dark room at home with my Berkeley-issued netbook, reading assigned applications away from enormously curious family members. First and foremost, the process is confusingly subjective, despite all the objective criteria I was trained to examine.

In norming sessions, I remember how lead readers would raise a candidate’s ranking because he or she “helped build the class.” I never quite grasped how to build a class of freshmen from California — the priority, it was explained in the first day’s pep talk — while seeming to prize the high-paying out-of-state students who are so attractive during times of a growing budget gap. (A special team handled international applications.)

In one norming session, puzzled readers questioned why a student who resembled a throng of applicants and had only a 3.5 G.P.A. should rank so highly. Could it be because he was a nonresident and had wealthy parents? (He had taken one of the expensive volunteer trips to Africa that we were told should not impress us.)

Income, an optional item on the application, would appear on the very first screen we saw, along with applicant name, address and family information. We also saw the high school’s state performance ranking. All this can be revealing.

Admissions officials were careful not to mention gender, ethnicity and race during our training sessions. Norming examples were our guide.

Privately, I asked an officer point-blank: “What are we doing about race?”

She nodded sympathetically at my confusion but warned that it would be illegal to consider: we’re looking at — again, that phrase — the “bigger picture” of the applicant’s life.

After the next training session, when I asked about an Asian student who I thought was a 2 but had only received a 3, the officer noted: “Oh, you’ll get a lot of them.” She said the same when I asked why a low-income student with top grades and scores, and who had served in the Israeli army, was a 3.

Which them? I had wondered. Did she mean I’d see a lot of 4.0 G.P.A.’s, or a lot of applicants whose bigger picture would fail to advance them, or a lot of Jewish and Asian applicants (Berkeley is 43 percent Asian, 11 percent Latino and 3 percent black)?

The idea behind multiple readers is to prevent any single reader from making an outlier decision. And some of the rankings I gave actual applicants were overturned up the reading hierarchy. I received an e-mail from the assistant director suggesting I was not with the program: “You’ve got 15 outlier, which is quite a lot. Mainly you gave 4’s and the final scores were 2’s and 2.5’s.” As I continued reading, I should keep an eye on the “percentile report on the e-viewer” and adjust my rankings accordingly.

In a second e-mail, I was told I needed more 1’s and referrals. A referral is a flag that a student’s grades and scores do not make the cut but the application merits a special read because of “stressors” — socioeconomic disadvantages that admissions offices can use to increase diversity.

Officially, like all readers, I was to exclude minority background from my consideration. I was simply to notice whether the student came from a non-English-speaking household. I was not told what to do with this information — except that it may be a stressor if the personal statement revealed the student was having trouble adjusting to coursework in English. In such a case, I could refer the applicant for a special read.

Why did I hear so many times from the assistant director? I think I got lost in the unspoken directives. Some things can’t be spelled out, but they have to be known. Application readers must simply pick it up by osmosis, so that the process of detecting objective factors of disadvantage becomes tricky.

It’s an extreme version of the American non-conversation about race.

I scoured applications for stressors.

To better understand stressors, I was trained to look for the “helpful” personal statement that elevates a candidate. Here I encountered through-the-looking-glass moments: an inspiring account of achievements may be less “helpful” than a report of the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors.

Should I value consistent excellence or better results at the end of a personal struggle? I applied both, depending on race. An underrepresented minority could be the phoenix, I decided.

We were not to hold a lack of Advanced Placement courses against applicants. Highest attention was to be paid to the unweighted G.P.A., as schools in low-income neighborhoods may not offer A.P. courses, which are given more weight in G.P.A. calculation. Yet readers also want to know if a student has taken challenging courses, and will consider A.P.’s along with key college-prep subjects, known as a-g courses, required by the U.C. system.

Even such objective information was open to interpretation. During training Webinars, we argued over transcripts. I scribbled this exchange in my notes:

A reader ranks an applicant low because she sees an “overcount” in the student’s a-g courses. She thinks the courses were miscounted or perhaps counted higher than they should have been.

Another reader sees an undercount and charges the first reader with “trying to cut this girl down.”

The lead reader corrects: “We’re not here to cut down a student.” We’re here to find factors that advance the student to a higher ranking.

Another reader thinks the student is “good” but we have so many of “these kids.” She doesn’t see any leadership beyond the student’s own projects.

Listening to these conversations, I had to wonder exactly how elite institutions define leadership. I was supposed to find this major criterion holistically in the application. Some students took leadership courses. Most often, it was demonstrated in extracurricular activities.

Surely Berkeley seeks the class president, the organizer of a volunteer effort, the team captain. But there are so many other types of contributions to evaluate. Is the kindergarten aide or soup kitchen volunteer not a leader?

And what about “blue noise,” what the admissions pros called the blank blue screen when there were no activities listed? In my application pile, many students from immigrant households had excellent grades and test scores but few activities. I commented in my notes: “Good student, but not many interests or activities? Why? Busy working parents? And/or not able to afford, or get to, activities?”

IN personal statements, we had been told to read for the “authentic” voice over students whose writing bragged of volunteer trips to exotic places or anything that “smacks of privilege.”

Fortunately, that authentic voice articulated itself abundantly. Many essays lucidly expressed a sense of self and character — no small task in a sea of applicants. Less happily, many betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable, as were canny attempts to catch some sympathy with a personal story of generalized misery. The torrent of woe could make a reader numb: not another student suffering from parents’ divorce, a learning difference, a rare disease, even dandruff!

As I developed the hard eye of a slush pile reader at a popular-fiction agency, I asked my lead readers whether some of these stressors might even be credible. I was told not to second-guess the essays but simply to pick the most worthy candidate. Still, I couldn’t help but ask questions that were not part of my reader job.

The assistant director’s words — look for “evidence a student can succeed at Berkeley” — echoed in my ears when I wanted to give a disadvantaged applicant a leg up in the world. I wanted to help. Surely, if these students got to Berkeley they would be exposed to all sorts of test-taking and studying techniques.

But would they be able to compete with the engineering applicant with the 3.95 G.P.A. and 2300 SATs? Does Berkeley have sufficient support services to bridge gaps and ensure success? Could this student with a story full of stressors and remedial-level writing skills survive in a college writing course?

I wanted every freshman walking through Sather Gate to succeed.

Underrepresented minorities still lag behind: about 92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. A study of the University of California system shows that 17 percent of underrepresented minority students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

When the invitation came to sign up for the next application cycle, I wavered. My job as an application reader — evaluating the potential success of so many hopeful students — had been one of the most serious endeavors of my academic career. But the opaque and secretive nature of the process had made me queasy. Wouldn’t better disclosure of how decisions are made help families better position their children? Does Proposition 209 serve merely to push race underground? Can the playing field of admissions ever be level?

For me, the process presented simply too many moral dilemmas. In the end, I chose not to participate again.


Jeb Bush's Crony Republicans Against Higher Standards

By Michelle Malkin

The resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett couldn't have come at a better time. His disgraceful grade-fixing scandal is the perfect symbol of all that's wrong with the federal education schemes peddled by Bennett and his mentor, former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush: phony academic standards, crony contracts, big-government and big-business collusion masquerading as "reform."

Bennett stepped down Thursday after the Associated Press reported that he had meddled with charter school accountability ratings in Indiana last fall while serving as that state's schools superintendent. The beneficiary of his intervention? Big GOP donor and charter school operator Christel DeHaan, who has forked over nearly $3 million to Republicans (including $130,000 to Bennett).

DeHaan's Christel House Academy charter school magically went from a "C" rating to an "A" rating despite failing 10th-grade math scores. An abysmal 33 percent of the school's 10th-grade Algebra I students passed. Note: The school uses the widely panned elementary-level Everyday Math curriculum (which I've exposed in previous columns) and a newfangled secondary program called the Carnegie Learning Math Series, whose website prominently brags that its "courses were developed to align to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics." More on that in a moment.

Emails showed that Bennett was far more concerned about how a low grade would look than about maintaining the integrity of the grading system. Evaluators "need to understand that anything less than an 'A' for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett complained. "This will be a HUGE problem for us," he worried in another message obtained by the AP.

Cronyism and corruption come in all political stripes and colors. As a conservative parent of public charter school-educated children, I am especially appalled by these pocket-lining GOP elites who are giving grassroots education reformers a bad name and cashing in on their betrayal of limited-government principles.

It turns out that Bennett's wife was hired by an outfit called "Charter Schools USA" to serve as a regional director in Florida. The group just happens to be the same one Bennett contracted with to operate schools in Indianapolis that the state had taken over. The Indianapolis Star reported: "Tina Bennett is now earning a paycheck from the company her husband handpicked to take over schools in Indiana, a decision that was very good for the company's financial fortunes." Like the Church Lady said: How conveeeenient!

Excellent charter schools across the country have a hard time as it is battling hostile public employee unions and far-left detractors. This dirty government scandal makes the fight for local and parental choice in education all the more difficult. Education analyst Jim Stergios at the Pioneer Institute sums up the damage caused: It's "bad for accountability, for the public trust and for education reform."

Amen. But instead of condemning his actions, the tone-deaf, ethics-blind Jeb Bush heaped praise on Bennett for his "leadership" after his resignation. Bush's nonprofit vehicle, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, chimed in, as well, calling Bennett a "bold champion for students" and "a good man and a good friend."

These good ol' boys bonded over their zeal for the top-down racket known as Common Core. As I've reported previously, this Fed Ed program is supported by both big-business interests (Microsoft founder Bill Gates and News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch's education arm) and government educrats.

Progressive activists in both parties have worked on nationalized standards, tests and curriculum for decades under previous names: outcome-based education, national school-to-work, Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind, for example. Obama administration bribery through "Race To The Top" greased the wheels for adoption of the Common Core program by cash-strapped states, many of which had more rigorous standards than the fed-imposed system.

Common Core cheerleaders falsely claimed that untested standards were "internationally benchmarked." Math and English standards have been dumbed down. And a plethora of data-mining firms stand to gain billions from student information gathered under the Common Core assessments umbrella. The Obama administration's sabotage of federal educational privacy protections will help supply that data to the highest crony bidders.

After Bennett was voted out of office in Indiana last fall over his efforts to ram the phony "standards" and nationalized testing scheme through, Team Jeb came to the rescue. In addition to greasing the wheels for the Florida schools chief job, Bush's foundation named Bennett one of its "Chiefs for Change." That group champions Common Core, and many of its members are part of a behemoth, federally funded testing consortium called PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which raked in $186 million through Race To The Top to develop nationalized tests "aligned" to the top-down Common Core program.

Bush's foundation has now joined with the Common Core-peddling Fordham Institute under a new phony-baloney umbrella group: "Conservatives for Higher Standards." While its list of supporters includes federal bureaucrats, politicians and business interests, there are no grassroots conservative parents or teacher groups. So beware of this "conservative" front. And remember: Astro-turfing runs in the Bush family. Under George W. Bush, the federal Department of Education paid GOP mouthpiece/columnist Armstrong Williams to shill for No Child Left Behind.

Heather Crossin, a conservative Indiana mom who helped spearhead the drive to eject Bennett from office and reject Common Core in her state, put it best. She told me after the latest crony Republican education scandal this week:

"This situation illustrates why it is crucial that parents be reinserted into the decision-making process when it comes to the education of their children. When their voices and concerns take a backseat to 'command and control' approaches to ed reform, the public trust can easily be broken." It's elementary.


It’s no wonder none of my friends are teenage Tories

Left-wing propaganda on Britain's High School Politics syllabuses strongly influences 18-year-olds' opinions

I’m the only 18-year-old Tory in the village, and it’s often an unpleasant experience. At school, I was half-jokingly called a fascist by my politics teacher after expressing my enthusiasm for welfare reform. During Michael Gove-bashing lunches in the sixth-form common room, I sat in silence. Occasionally, filled with missionary zeal, I managed to get someone to extol free schools, but their overarching opinions on evil Conservatives always remained unchanged.

When I asked what the Tories meant to them, my friends’ responses were revealing. “I would never vote Conservative,” said one, “because I don’t think they value society. They believe in a world where it’s every man for himself.” When I asked what the party’s vision for Britain entailed, another told me it was “less of a priority to help people with less money”, while several commented on a willingness to “hurt people who need help most of all, just to pull in a few extra million”. Immigration was also mentioned, with one friend saying that the Conservatives are “obsessed with keeping foreigners out of the country”.

Then I asked about the Left, and the tone changed. “Left-wing people put a lot more value on making a world where everyone has the same opportunities for happiness,” I was told. Labour, someone said, “don’t think your background should influence what you do in life”. My friends were well versed in the doctrines of Left-wing idealism, but no one could tell me a single Right-wing idea for improving society.

Still, isn’t socialism something that everyone flirts with, then grows out of? Well, actually, no. In 1983, voters under 24 were only 2 per cent less likely to vote Conservative than those aged 25-34. In 2010, there was a bias in Labour’s favour, despite voters as a whole being likely to vote Tory.

What’s changed is not just the faces at the top of the Labour Party, but what young people are being taught. Indeed, what the exam board Edexcel has to say on the subject of Conservative ideology in its most recent A-level Government and Politics syllabus is downright scandalous. Alongside some recognisable Tory tenets – such as “reform is preferable to revolution” – we were taught that the Conservative viewpoint consists of a “fear of diversity” and support for “social and state authoritarianism”. It views people as “limited, dependent and security-seeking creatures” and supports “resurgent nationalism… insularity and xenophobia”. The equivalent entry on socialism contains such feel-good phrases as “social stability and cohesion, social justice, happiness and personal development” and doesn’t get any darker than a perfunctory mention of “conflict as a motor of history”. Which one would you pick?

The actual marking schemes, used in real exams and deciding students’ real results, are even worse. The “correct” answer as to why Conservatives might wish to alleviate poverty is out of “a pragmatic concern… in the interests of the rich and prosperous”. Authority is valued because it ensures individuals “know 'where they stand’ and what is expected of them”.

Not one of the five suggestions given as a potential answer to the question “Why has the Coalition government tried to reform the benefits system?” mentions improving lives by freeing people from the welfare trap; four are variations on “cutting costs”. The marking scheme for the question “ 'The Coalition government’s deficit-reduction programme goes too far, too fast. Discuss” provides nine bullet points in support and one against: hardly a discussion. But if teenagers didn’t regurgitate this stuff, they wouldn’t have got any marks.

So when my friends think about politics, they’re just following the script. If the Tories are to win back the youth vote, they need to try harder to match the utopianism of Left-wing politics with an exhilarating vision of their own. But it’s a hopeless battle if 18-year-olds join the electoral roll already indoctrinated. The only saving grace, at least among my peers, is that most of them don’t care enough about politics to take in the propaganda.