Monthly Archives: December 2012

Diversity Dilemma in Action

A month ago, I wrote about the real diversity dilemma, not the faux trauma that Mike Petrilli is hawking. Happily, an illustrative example that’s been cooking along for a year or so just went back on the burner.

Novato charter supporters, opponents square off

I will recap the relevant points.

  1. Novato is part of Marin County, California. The white people there are rich, but not super-rich. No one in Novato says “I live in Marin”, as such a statement would mislead the audience as to the speaker’s financial status.
  2. Rancho Elementary is a Novato magnet school that takes kids from throughout the district, has a lottery, requires an onsite visit and other commitments from the parents.
  3. In 2011, after years of complaints from the other schools (more on that in a moment), the district alerts the parents to its decision to , convert Rancho to a district school, requiring it to draw primarily from the neighborhood students.
  4. The parents at Rancho respond by seeking to convert their school to a charter. They abandon the plan when the school administrators and teachers refuse to support the idea.
  5. In early 2012, the North Bay Educational Foundation is formed to petition the district for a new charter. Of the 365 parents signing the petition, 181 of them are Rancho parents. Another 75 are parents from the other seven elementary schools, a whole bunch are kindergartner parents eager to avoid their current district school, and some are private school parents.

Wow, you’re saying. Those Rancho parents must really, really like the lottery!

So here’s some other info. This story takes place in California. Raise your hand if you think the Hispanic population has increased dramatically over the last decade. Hey, you in the back, why is your hand still….oh, he’s asleep. Okay. Novato’s census indeed shows that Hispanic population has risen from 13 to 21% of the population.

Of course, the public school population will have an even higher population of Hispanic students than the overall population. California test results show that the district population is 30% Hispanic.

But then, the population of Hispanics isn’t evenly distributed, so let’s look at the individual elementary schools.
Using the CST results again:

School

Total
Pop

Hisp
Pop

%age
Lu Sutton

295

142

48%
Loma Verde

260

135

52%
Lynwood

285

147

52%
Olive

254

81

32%
Pleasant Valley

270

24

9%
San Ramon

290

82

28%
Rancho

336

20

6%

Rancho has the lowest Hispanic population of all the elementary schools, and only Pleasant Valley has a similarly low population. The rest of the schools have five to eight times the Hispanic population.

Maybe Rancho is just located in an area with fewer Hispanics, so let’s check out the district map. Click to enlarge. (Source)
NovDistrictMap

Ah. So the three L schools (Lynwood, Loma Verde, and Lu Sutton), which are all roughly 50% Hispanic, surround Rancho Elementary, just 6% Hispanic. Rancho, which doesn’t take neighborhood kids, relies on a lottery, gives preference to siblings, and requires a parental visit to the school and other commitments, is just 6% Hispanic, despite being smack dab in the middle of the Hispanic population center of Novato.

Totally coincidental, of course.

So Rancho parents, told that their school must draw students from its half Hispanic local population, seek first to convert their school to a charter and then, when denied this, seek to create a new charter.

The Mercury News article observes that only 11 ELL and 13 Hispanic students are represented on the charter petition. But not to worry, says the charter foundation,:

In responding to charges that the few minority names on the foundation’s petition reflect poorly on a diversity goal, the foundation said that it would embark on a vigorous outreach effort to attract students from throughout the community after the district approved it petition. The petition states, “The Academy will institute a recruitment program designed to educate and inform potential students and their families about its instructional program and to insure that all Novato residents are given an equal opportunity to enroll their children at the school.”

(emphasis mine)

Or, as I said in my first post:

Unlike low-achieving, majority URM charters, which are generally funded with billionaire grant money or for-profit charters, progressive charters are normally started by parents who are willing to fork out $10K or so apiece to get a charter school off the ground for their kids. Then, once they’ve got seed money, off they go in search of a reasonable amount of low income URM kids.

(emphasis mine for this piece)

Another irony rich moment: this op ed by Robert Verhoeff, the primary charter advocate, arguing that the chosen curriculum, Core Knowledge, will be just the ticket for Novato’s diverse population:

The school will be based on Core Knowledge — a rigorous, sequential curriculum rich in language arts, history, geography, math, science, art and music. The breadth of subjects taught each year far exceeds what is being taught in Novato elementary schools. Core Knowledge repeats subjects each year in an age appropriate way so knowledge builds or spirals. This encourages children to build cognitive connections between diverse subjects, while ensuring that rich, specific content provides a level playing field for students no matter their incoming cultural knowledge base.
….One of the primary reasons the founders of NBEF brought forth this petition was to address the achievement gap that exists in Novato public schools. Currently more than two thirds of white students in Novato elementary schools are proficient in language arts while only about one third of Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students are proficient, according to the most recent state Department of Education reports.

Hahahahaha! Yes, indeed, Bob, the primary reason you brought this petition forward was to use this wonderful curriculum to help the Hispanic kids—that you fought like hell for three years to keep out of your school. Or, as I said in my essay:

And so the dilemma Petrilli and others write about involving both progressive charters and “gentrifying” public schools: how can white middle to upper class parents who can no longer afford to move to a homogeneous district sculpt the schools they want while minimizing the impact of the undesirable students? …Clearly, step one is for the parents to publicly congratulate themselves. They’re not avoiding diversity, they’re seeking it out!

So what did the district do to the charter parents? It denied their petition, citing the legal requirements that weren’t met. The district, of course, is lying. It denied their petition because it doesn’t want to lose money to a charter started by a few parents who are too cheap or too broke for private school, but the district isn’t allowed to say so.

What will the charter school pushers do? Go to the county, and then to the state. One of the two entities will override the district, because “a certain group of white taxpayer parents who win the lottery is trying to keep Hispanics to a minimum at the expense of all the other white taxpayer parents who lose the lottery” is not a legal reason to deny a charter application.

Or, as I put it here:

This kicks off a big hooha with the local school district. First, the charter will never be as “diverse” as the local school district. It will always run considerably behind in URMs. Then, the local school districts will accuse the charter of creaming just the motivated students, of URM attrition, of creating rules and expectations that are tough for the low-income (read Hispanic/black) parents to follow. Then there’s the yearly squabble as the local school district points out that the charters are pulling the public schools’ top achieving low income Hispanic/African American kids whilst leaving behind low incentive kids, special ed kids, English language learners, thus lowering the district school scores, while the charters congratulate themselves for their diversity, tolerance, humanity, generosity and high test scores. The local school district will often reject the charter’s extension, only to be overridden by lawsuits or the state. All done ostensibly in the name of good intentions and diversity, all done actually in the name of minimizing their own kids’ exposure to the lower achieving, poorly behaved low income blacks and Hispanics.

I invite you to read my description, and then go through the links I’ve included. To quote Mr. Potter, do I paint an accurate picture, or do I exaggerate?

When I last wrote about this, Steve Sailer commented on my site: “Personally, I’m in favor of taxpayers being able to arrange things so their children can attend public schools in cities and not have to flee to the exurbs.”

This is the pragmatist’s response (although this is happening primarily in the suburbs, not the cities). But it’s a short-sighted one because, as I point out above, it doesn’t benefit all taxpayers equally. It benefits the richest kids first, the ones whose parents can pony up seed money, and then the lucky kids who win the lottery. This is a small group. It won’t stop white flight to the exurbs. Suburban charters, if they are successful on a large scale, will be incredibly disruptive to the public school system. Which is, I suspect, exactly why eduformers have recently started pushing them hard.

Personally, I find it disgusting to allow a select group of parents to hijack taxpayer dollars for their own limited benefit, while they preen about their desire to help the brown folk. But I’m also well aware that suburban charters are only different in this respect in color, not intent. Majority URM charters are doing the same thing–using taxpayer dollars and billionaire philanthropy instead of parent seed money—but in these cases, all the kids are the same color.

I’ve said this before: charters are popular because they allow the owners to keep certain students out. All the talk about curricular freedom, non-union teachers, and dedication to achievement is garbage. Parents sign their kids up for charters to keep their kids away from the undesirables.

So let them do that, you say. But charters can’t possibly scale. This is so obvious that I can’t even be bothered to spell it out. You aren’t going to make me, are you? Charters “work”–that is, they are able to operate, not raise achievement—because non-charters have to take all the other kids by default, and have to do so without any say in the matter. When public schools don’t work by default, charters or no, the outcome is ugly, as this report on NYC’s all choice program reveals (and boy, is that system several lawsuits waiting to happen). We will never have a system in which all students everywhere are able to avoid undesirable students by going to a charter, and therefore we are creating a system in which students luck out on expensive, functionally private schools simply by lottery. It can’t last. I don’t know what will give first.

So what’s the solution? The answer depends on whether the undesirable kids are low income URM kids in a middle-class or higher (usually white) district, or horribly-behaved, low-incentive URM kids in a low income URM district.

For the first: bring back tracking, or ability grouping. Reassure white parents that their kids will be learning based on their ability, and then stare those parents down when their kids get slotted into the low ability groups. This approach, of course, leads to lawsuits. But remember, charters are just doing the same thing except on a smaller and wholly unfair scale. Tracking is cheaper and, if done properly, fairer.

For the second: start charters for low ability, low-incentive kids. Make these schools two steps up from jail or bootcamp. Kids who misbehave get expelled from their local school and sent to the charters, which are so ruthlessly strict and brutal that the kids would anything to get out and anything to avoid being put back in.

Unfortunately, eduformers will probably continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that charters are a noble means of closing the achievement gap, and ignore the realities of the havoc they propose. Progressives and unions will continue to pretend that all kids can achieve equally, that money is all we need to close the achievement gap, and that tracking is racist.

It’s a crazy world.

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Teaching Congruence, or Are You Happy, Professor Wu?

I first ran into the writings of Professor Hung-Hsi Wu in ed school, and never forgot him. How often do you see a math professor hyperventilating about elementary teachers as the abused children of math education:

For elementary teachers, there is at present a feeling that they have been so damaged by their K–12 experience…that we owe it to them to treat them with kid gloves…. Those that I have encountered are generally eager to learn and are willing to work hard. The kid-glove treatment would seem to be hardly necessary. …There is another school of thought arguing that for elementary teachers, one should teach them not only the mathematics of their classrooms, but at the same time also how children think about the mathematics. Again, I can only speak from my own experience. The teachers I observed usually had so much difficulty just coming to terms with the mathematics itself that any additional burden about children’s thinking would have crushed them.

More:

There are ample reasons to believe that at present most teachers are operating at the outer edge of their mathematical knowledge. Now when one finds oneself in that situation, one is prone to being tense and inflexible, and is consequently not likely to create a friendly atmosphere for learning. There should be a study to look into how much of the so-called math phobia in this country can be traced to this fact (especially in elementary schools). The other simple reason is that no matter how elementary the topic, some students would bring up deep or at least non-elementary related questions.2 If the teacher fails to answer such questions too often, the students’ confidence in the teacher is eroded and, again, a non-productive learning atmosphere would result.

Abuse victims grow up to be abusers, you know?

He trains elementary school teachers in these special recovery workshops for abuse victims:

The main difficulty with the Geometry Institute, and the relative lack of success thereof, was the teachers’ unfamiliarity with anything geometric. With but mild exaggeration, some teachers literally trembled at the sight of ruler and compass or when they were handed a geometric solid. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, we were prepared for teachers’ being ill-at-ease with geometric reasoning and lack of geometric intuition, but not for the degree to which both were true. School education in geometry is in deep trouble.

I know many who read Professor Wu and take his descriptions at face value, using him as evidence of teacher stupidity. Anyone who believes a math professor—a mathematician, that is—can be objective about elementary school teachers’ math knowledge has never met any mathematicians. Read the above link in which he describes the bare minimum of what fifth grade teachers need to know in order to prepare their students, and ask yourself if elementary school math teachers have ever known that much. How on earth did we all get to the moon and create the internet?

Still, his fulminations about geometry caught my attention over the summer, when I read this:

As to the subject of school geometry, the problem is that if universities do not teach it, or do not teach it well, then the only exposure to school geometry that geometry teachers ever have will be their own high school experience in geometry. The latter of course has been scandalously unsatisfactory for a long time, to the point where many school geometry courses cease to prove any theorems.

Well, hang on. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t teach proofs and rarely prove theorems. I also typically dump transformations, most of construction, and solids. But I’m teaching non-honors geometry in a Title I school, where geometry is but a brief respite before the kids are dumped back into Algebra Hell. As a tutor, I’m very familiar with geometry as it is taught in the high-performance schools in the area, which are some of the highest performing schools in the country, and they are getting proofs a-plenty. Moreover, geometry hasn’t been “scandalously unsatisfactory” since we began forcing everyone into college prep math (an absurd notion in and of itself). What’s scandalously unsatisfactory is the idiocy of trying to teach proofs to low ability kids. But I digress. The point is, I dispute his notion that geometry is taught badly at all schools. A highly modified version of geometry is taught at some schools, for a very good reason, and given the kids involved there’s little evidence that it’s doing any damage, and regular “old school” geometry is routinely being taught to the top students.

But I was curious, nonetheless, as to what dire notions Prof Wu had about geometry as it is taught in schools, and so I googled. Teaching Geometry According to the Common Core Standards is the first article I read, but this interview with Rick Hess spells out the key point with the fewest words (would that I valued the same behavior in myself):

As another example, when state standards ask that the concept of congruence be taught in middle school, they do not realize that what students will end up getting is that congruence means same size and same shape. As a mathematical definition, the latter is completely unacceptable.

I sat up straight at this. Remember, I’m not a mathematician (which of course means that Prof Wu wouldn’t let me near fifth graders, much less high schoolers), and had never given much thought to congruence and similarity until I began teaching public school, as opposed to reviewing similarity for college admissions tests (congruence is not a tested subject). At that point, however, the book definitions seemed a tad circular. Check out the CPM section on similarity. It uses dilations, which (as you will see) is the right start, but at no point does the text explain the link between similarity and dilation. It’s all “cut out the figures, talk with your group, what’s the same, what’s different” crap. And when I taught geometry two years later using Holt, the official definition of congruence, straight from the book, was “Two polygons are congruent if and only if their corresponding sides and angles are congruent”. Really? Polygons are congruent if they are congruent?

I actually apologized to my class last year when we got to that point, because I hadn’t noticed this bizarre definition until the day before I taught congruence. I said yeah, a tad circular, and I hereby promise to investigate but for now, let’s go with it. (Sorry, Professor Wu, but most of them are never going to use congruence again.)

So here’s Wu saying that yes, this is a problem? How does he want it to be taught?

Holy Crap. Rigid motions? Isometries? (not isometrics. I make that mistake all the time) The sections I ignore? They have a purpose? I should have majored in math. No, not really.

This was a huge revelation, and incredibly easy to put into action. Most students got two “transparency triangles” and a white board. Some students used the graph paper with the transparency triangles. Three students (strong students) used the white boards with different colored pens and no manipulative. I wanted to see which methods worked best and if any problems came up with a particular method.

Day 1: Introduce translations and reflections, moving to increasingly complex reflection equations. Emphasize that reflections occur over a line; evaluate the change in coordinate points with pre-image and image, and then start calculating new coordinate values without using the manipulatives first.

Day 2: Rotations (by far the most difficult, in my mind). We focused on rotations of 90 degrees, and on reviewing the definition of perpendicular slopes, since that’s how the students found the new point—find the slope from the point of rotation (usually the origin) to the vertex to be rotated, convert to the perpendicular slope. Stressed that rotations were around a point, in contrast to reflections.

I foolishly didn’t take pictures in class that day—or if I did, I can’t find them. Here’s roughly what it would have looked like for a student using graph paper and the manipulatives, except they used colored pencils for the different slope connections. This is an example rotating a triangle 90 degrees clockwise.
RotationPrep

First step (click on image) was to identify the slope from the point of rotation to each vertex. Then they identified the perpendicular slope for each of the rotation points—reinforcing perpendicular slope relationships being a big ol’ secondary point of the lesson—and sketched that line in as well. The students used different colors for each vertex, so they could easily see the before and after for each point, and recognize the 90 degree nature of the turn.

Then, with the points sketched, they did the actual rotation. Put the triangle on the original point, hold the manipulative at the point of rotation, and turn. Voila.

RotationPos1RotationPos2RotationPos3

And then put the first manipulative in the original position to see what the rotation before and after looks like.

RotationBeforeAfter

I’ve always had a difficult time teaching rotations, but the manipulative really helped.

I end the day pointing out that transformations preserve both degree and distance. They can see this because they are using identical manipulatives, but I have them calculate some side lengths and slopes to confirm.

Day 3: Congruence
And now, congruence. Instead of a circular definition, I have a clean syllogism:

If Polygon A is congruent to Polygon B, then A can be mapped onto B using a series of transformations. If the figures can be mapped into the same space, then their corresponding angles and sides are congruent, because the mapping preserves degree and distance. Therefore, congruent polygons’ corresponding angles and sides are also congruent.

From there, I go onto congruence shortcuts and proofs, blah blah blah. But it started much more cleanly. I taught transformations, reviewed perpendicular lines and other coordinate geometry formulas, and linked it all to congruence in a meaningful way.

A few weeks later, it was onto similar polygons. Again, instead of just saying “Similar polygons have congruent angles and proportional sides”, I can link it to dilation.

WuSimilarity

Day One: Review of Proportionality, then onto dilation

The kids did straight dilations as well as transformations and dilations in combination. I started with straight dilations, because I wanted the students to confirm the elements of similarity. The kids generally remember that parallel lines have the same slope, but I thought it would also be useful to see the transversal relationships with the parallel lines. We could prove, algebraically, that the lines of the dilated triangle were parallel to the original, and we could then extend those lines to prove that the corresponding angles on each triangle were congruent. Here’s an example (again, one I just sketched up) that shows how the kids determined the angles were congruent.

DilationSimilarTransversals

The kids colored the corresponding angles—there are three in each case (one of the green ones in my image is an error, you can see I xed it out, just too much hassle to draw again).

So again, the point was to algebraically and visually confirm the parallel relationship, and then follow the dual sets of parallel lines and transversals to confirm that the angles are congruent.

I had them do a combination transformation/dilation, confirming that order didn’t matter, and identifying which of the isometries had the parallel relationship.

Day 2: Review of Dilation, then onto Similarity.

Done.

Linking isometries to congruence and similarity was so much better, and whenever I tell math teachers about it they go oooh, ahhh and think about trying it themselves. And yet, I can’t point to why it’s so obviously superior. I can’t swear that my students learned congruence or similarity more thoroughly—in fact, I think they learned it as well but not any better than my students last year.

But it’s just more….cohesive, maybe? Not only am I finally linking in rigid transformations, which I never gave more than a quick review at test time (two of the three are intuitive, rotations are tough), to the rest of geometry, and creating an organic reason to review the relevance of perpendicular and parallel lines/transversals, but I am also linking both of these concepts to congruence and similarity, rather than just giving that annoying circular definition. While congruence doesn’t have much relevance past geometry, similarity runs through the next three years of math in a big way. So anything that makes the introduction more meaningful is probably a good thing. Moreover, transformations are easily grasped by even weak students, and their interest kept them going through the review of perpendicular and parallel lines.

None of this required complicated worksheets. I taught congruence using notes and Kuta worksheets; for similarity we used the book (Holt). I taught the transformations with boardwork–I really, really could have used a document camera, but that just came a couple weeks ago. Still, the kids got it well.

The really important thing, though, is that I have to feel mildly guilty about mocking Professor Wu. Next time I see him at Math Survivors Anonymous, I’ll grovel.


Those Who Can, Teach. Those Who Can’t, Wonk.

No, I’m not going to argue that education policy wonks must all spend time in the classroom. But it’s instructive to look at the major names in educational circles today and see what kind of teaching experience they have.

Andrew Rotherham was a corporate trainer, a curriculum designer who “taught civics to high school students” as a curriculum designer (which means he did demo classes?), and from there, went into full-fledged wonkery.

Diane Ravitch began life as an editorial assistant and then an education historian before she began wonking.

Arne Duncan played professional basketball player in Australia, where he spent time with underprivileged children before he ran a non-profit education foundation and then supervised Chicago’s schools.

Linda Darling Hammond spent a year teaching English as a public school teacher in a mostly white Pennsylvania suburb.

Andrew Smarick has no teaching experience, but he was a co-founder of a KIPP school that was closed.

Checker Finn taught public high school for a year, and by his own admission, quit because he was a terrible teacher.

Mike Petrilli had what looks to be a job as a camp counsellor.

Michelle Rhee was a public school teacher for two years and lied misrepresented let people think she had raised test scores. Her classroom management skills were so poor that she made her students wear duct tape to keep quiet. (It’s also possible that Rhee is lying about that story, since no one can really believe she wouldn’t have been fired for that stunt. If she lied, though, it means that Rhee’s so ignorant about teaching that she thinks the story is believable.)

Rick Hess taught in Baton Rouge for two years, and then quit in part because he wasn’t able to teach the AP Econ course he wanted to, even for free.

John Chubb wasn’t a teacher or even a businessman when he got involved with Edison Schools, but by golly, he wants us to have the best teachers in the world. Who apparently aren’t at Edison.

Alfie Kohn emphasizes that he has been a teacher,but keeps most of his teaching career away from the watchful eye of Google. He does mention that he taught “existentialism to high school students”. Cough.

Rick Hess publishes a list of highly visible edu-scholars; of the top ten on the list, only five have any experience in teaching, according to their CVs, and just one, Larry Cuban, has had extensive experience teaching and leading public schools.

I can only think of two educational experts with extensive K-12 teaching experience—Cuban and Deborah Meier. Neither have spent much, if any, time in government, nor have they sought to influence public policy to any large degree (as opposed to Moe, Hanushek, Darling-Hammond, and so on). Meier is a pure play teacher-administrator (if she even has an advanced degree, her bio doesn’t mention it).

Obviously, my list is incomplete; I read a great deal and tried to get a representative group. But I’d be surprised if I’m missing more than one or two counterexamples. It’s hard to find an educational expert with extensive teaching experience who isn’t at least skeptical about the current brand of reform. Cuban, one of my favorite education wonks, is a skeptic with a mildly progressive edge, Meier a committed progressive. On the other hand, if eduformers have any well-regarded educational experts with more than a decade in public schools, it’s a well-hidden secret.

So where are the teachers in the debate? Well, as I’ve written before, teachers are, as a group, astonishingly uninterested in policy. Even union issues engage maybe 20-30% of the teachers at any meeting I’ve attended; the rest are checking their watches. This is a function of personality. Wonks and teachers are from opposite ends of the spectrum. Teaching appeals disproportionately to concrete thinkers interested in the immediate payoff, attributes largely antithetical to the average policy wonk job.

When you run into actual, honest-to-god teachers out there pushing ideas, they usually fall into these categories:

  • Teach Like I Do Marketers: Rafe Esquith, Doug Lemov. These guys have no research or stats to back up their claims; they are lauded as good teachers because their methods impress powerful edupundits. They write a lot of books or consult. (ETA a couple years later–and it turns out, Lemov never did much teaching).
  • It’s the Curriculum, Stupid, aka the Core Knowledge folk (Robert Pondiscio, Jessica Lahey, Barry Garelick, etc): I have nothing bad to say about these guys; they are earnest, somewhat right, but absurdly unrealistic because they mostly work with high-achieving kids. They also have something to sell: the value of the Core Knowledge curriculum. (Note: I originally wrote that CK wanted to sell the curriculum. Robert Pondiscio notes in the comments that the Core Knowledge curriculum is free, and can be downloaded. Fair enough, and I welcome the news, and the correction. However, I believe it’s fair to say that they are still advocates, and in that limited sense, “selling”. I am a fan of CK, fwiw.)
  • Bandwagon Reformers: The “I did my two” sorts who are in the process of getting out by writing an op-ed as a job application. Some of them went into teaching sincerely, and are really pissed at all the pink slips they’ve been getting, winning cites from reformers looking to shore up their credibility. (Look! Real teachers agree with us!) Short shelf lives, as a rule. Either they get that reform think tank job, or they quit teaching.
  • Diane Ravitch’s fan club: The name says it all. Well, I do like Gary Rubenstein, but his obsessive focus on TFA and reform gets a bit old. He needs to branch out.

So most teachers found in the debate have something to sell, or are firmly in one of the two major camps.

What I don’t run into very often are full-time teachers who read a lot about policy, engage with the data, put it up against their own experience working with the average kid (mid to low ability), and then opine about that policy based on their own analysis, which includes both their experience and their knowledge of existing educational policy.

That is, we don’t hear from teachers much as subject matter experts. Few of them are interested in policy because they aren’t wired that way. Most of the rest out there agitating have an agenda.

I can’t think of many teachers who write on policy, period. Some who do have jobs at the top end of the teaching totem pole, which means they don’t have a clue what it’s like to teach low ability kids—and their opinions show this lack. Patrick Welsh writes pretty well about policy and really uses his experience to inform his policy opinions, although I don’t often agree with him. John Thompson left teaching recently, I think, but taught at high-poverty Oklahoma schools for a long time, and it shows. Paul Bruno, also writing on Alexander Russo’s blog, is a middle school science teacher working with “underserved” populations. Both Thompson and Bruno are well-read on policy, skeptical of most bromides, and have views informed by their teaching without being purely dominated by it.

Part of the problem, of course, is that teachers can get fired or otherwise penalized if they have opinions too far outside the mainstream. I’m not the only teacher who thinks cognitive ability shapes the large outlines of academic achievement and that low scores in “failing” schools are caused neither by insufficient money nor bad teachers but fundamentally flawed expectations. And while Richard Posner agrees with me, I’m not going public with my views any time soon.

The larger educational policy world doesn’t really think about teachers as analysts. Progressives are convinced they do care about teachers, and view with suspicion any teacher who rejects their expertise. Reformers think most teachers are union hacks. Both progressives and reformers are constantly calling for an upgrade in teacher qualifications, which means they think teachers are too stupid to have anything of value to offer—except as props.

So here we are: Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, wonk. And without a concentrated effort to get teacher expertise into the debate, things won’t change.


Propaganda Films

I don’t normally waste much time in class. Kids come in, I kick off the lesson, it’s all go until the bell rings–maybe twice a month kids finish early and I let them quietly chat for 5 minutes at the end of class. I’m never sick, so the kids don’t lose a day of instruction with a sub. I don’t do warmups (buzzword: “do nows”) since it kills about 20 minutes of classtime to no avail. I don’t spend time on class-long come to Jesus meetings about behavior or student objectives. I don’t do posters (past Algebra I, anyway). Winged porcine creatures will look down upon the Common Core standards frozen solid in the Styx before I’ll spend a nanosecond teaching non-fiction in math class. My kids come in day after day and do math—or, as my evaluator wrote recently, “This is a business-like classroom where not a lot of student or teacher energy is spent doing tasks not related to the objectives for the day.”

So if I set aside maybe 6 hours a year for the class to watch movies, I figure I’m entitled to the time.

I feel no obligation to propagandize math, literature, or history to my classes. I’m fine if my kids hyperventilate at the mere thought of math, think Dickens and Shakespeare are tedious torture, or see no value in understanding the economic factors that led to the Civil War. (That goes triple for science, an opinion which could possibly have something to do with the fact that it’s the one subject I don’t teach.)

I am not fine with the fact that kids today automatically sneer at black and white movies, or indeed any “old” movie—and these are kids who think the first Die Hard is “old”. Consequently, I have for many years committed myself to increasing awareness of the great, near-great, or merely awesome movies of previous generations, making up for my students’ parents’ shocking neglect. In other words, I show movies in class for propaganda purposes: I want them to like “old” movies.

Long before I became a public school teacher, I was showing movies in my enrichment classes, a polite and entirely Asian group of 6-10 kids. I get more leeway and more patience from them, so was able to experiment with a broad range of movies:

Showing movies in public school means a tougher crowd; Rear Window was the only one that made the first cut. This movie’s golden; I can show it to any population and practically guarantee an enthralled and appreciative audience. I always start off by telling the kids that movies in earlier eras felt comfortable building a narrative first, that they should watch to see how the characters are established, where the narrative shifts happen (the scream, the dead dog), and how they will be covering their eyes in the last 20 minutes in a movie that doesn’t spill a drop of blood onscreen. It’s always a big hit.

My first year in teaching, I taught a great elective, Fifties Science Fiction Films—Lord, was that fun. Them! and Invasion of the Body Snatchers got a huge response, so I tentatively introduced them to my math classes. Them! has gotten a mixed response overall, though —some kids love the flame throwers and the ants, some go eh. But Invasion is another can’t fail hit, everyone loves it every time I show it.

Older films, alas, don’t have a lot of “color”, and for several years I’d been looking for an outstanding movie with significant non-white characters—and I mean genuinely outstanding, not a movie we pretend is great simply because it has non-white characters or a noble goal (e.g., I am unmoved by To Kill a Mockingbird, book and movie both, and think Gandhi is pretentious tripe). I found one last February, when I came across In The Heat of The Night. I’ve loved the movie since I was 13, but hadn’t seen it in a decade or more. It fits the ticket perfectly: a great movie with no significant sex, violence or language problems that far exceeds its makers’ simplistic vision. Listen to director Norman Jewison and star Sidney Poitier in the commentary and you’d think they’d made a tedious liberal tract about those meeeeeean, bigoted white folks in subhuman Mississippi. But in fact, the film is far more nuanced, with great perception about the Southern class system in its entirety—not just black and white, but poor white, working class white, and oligarchy white.

I usually give a little talk up front about the impact of the automated cotton picker on the Southern economy, the importance of bringing industry and jobs to the South, and the class system. I tell them that the star of the movie, Sidney Poitier, was the top box office star of that year, and was in three of the biggest movies that year—that when he makes his first appearance onscreen, the contemporary audiences knew exactly who he was, and that the star had shown up. I’ve shown it to 7 classes now, and they’ve all loved it.

So this year, my kids being so much easier than those of previous years, and having also thoroughly enjoyed Heat of the Night, I decided to take a chance at Christmas.

In early December, I told them that they’d get a test on Wednesday (the 19th), and then watch a movie on Thursday and Friday. In both classes (my math support class has a different routine),the conversation went like this:

“Is it a good movie, or black and white?”

“It’s not a good movie, but a great movie, and it’s black and white.”

“Awwww, that sucks.”

“Okay, we won’t do a movie then. Two more days of math! Cool!”

“NOOOOOO!”

“Yeah, you know how it works. Watch the movies I want you to watch, or do math. Is the worst movie in the world worse than math?” I am not big on democracy, have I mentioned?

“Movie. Please? Please show us this apparently awesome black and white movie!”

“Okay. This is a famous movie, so even if you hate it—and you probably won’t—it’s the movie equivalent of reading To Kill a Mockingbird, except way better because TKAM is like vegetables.”

So by the time yesterday came around, they were primed. It was a movie, better than math, but not anything they’d otherwise see. Probably it would suck, but then, they thought that about the Heat movie, and it was good. So they were open to having their minds changed.

Wonderfullifegraphic

And glory be, they enjoyed it thoroughly. They laughed in all the right places, got deadly still during the family tension scene, and clapped at the end. I noticed more than one girl wiping away tears as the lights came back on, and more than one boy ostentatiously jostling around for his backpack, keeping his face down, while he recovered.

Yet another step. One day soon, I’ll risk Casablanca. Roger Ebert, I’m doing God’s Work.


Push the Right Buttons

Since my school only has four block periods, teachers often sub for each other during their prep periods. Cheaper than hiring an outside sub, and with an experienced classroom manager running things, there’s an outside chance that the class won’t be a complete waste of time, which is normally the case for all but honors and AP courses when teacher’s not around.

Today I subbed for an economics teacher during fourth block, last class of the day. She told me to go to the library, that she’d put a note on her classroom door telling the students where to go. Ten minutes after the late bell, no students. I wander over to her classroom, where about half the students are milling around trying to get the nerve to leave. No note on the door. (I suspect someone pulled it down.)

“Are you Ms. L’s Econ class?

“Class was cancelled.”

“Yeah. What is this, college? Go to the library and work on your business project.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m the person telling you to go to the library and work on your business project. Come on, move. You’re late.”

(Note to new teachers, particularly you little twenty-somethings bleating about relating to students: it goes much smoother if you expect obedience. Better yet if you demand compliance. And like John Travolta says in Get Shorty, what you’re not doing is feeling about it one way or the other.)

They all trudge to the library and get to work on their project with little fuss; most of the remaining third trickle in over the next 25 minutes.

Last in, half an hour late, are two African American young men who clearly took the opportunity to pick up a second lunch at Wendys, and tried to get out of a tardy by telling me that they’d been waiting by the door “the whole time!” I laugh at them and tell them to get to work.

“We don’t know what to do.”

“Here.” I produce the assignment handout.

“Oh, yeah, the sports project. But there aren’t any computers open, they’re all full.”

“You two?” I speak to two kids on the end row of computers. “You’re not in this class?” They try to ignore me. “Are you in this class?” They still ignore me. “Let me find your name on the class list.”

“Okay, we’re not in this class. But we have homework.”

“Good for you. Do it later. Bye.” They are not happy, but they leave. (The computers are booked for the class, in case you just think I’m mean.)

“Look, guys! Two computers! Put the food away, and get to work.”

It’s a trip watching these two. They try. I watch them page through the assignment, puzzling over it, telling each other man, this is f**** up, she doesn’t tell us what to do. “It’s just a list of things we need to have done! But what do we do, man?”

After five minutes, I see them both paging through search lists, getting “Site blocked” messages. I wander over.

“Please tell me you aren’t googling porn sites in open view of a teacher and librarian.”

“Naw, I’m just finding shoe prices.”

“Shoe shopping?”

“For the team.”

“Oh, so you’re pricing shoes for your business. How much are you spending on personnel?”

“We don’t know how to do that. She doesn’t say how.”

“What are you staffing?”

“We have to staff a professional high school basketball team for $100,000.”

I look at them expectantly.

“What?”

“Nothing comes to mind?”

“She didn’t tell us what to do.”

“But you’re pricing shoes.”

“Yeah.”

I wait, to see if enlightenment will dawn. But it is still well before midnight.

“Okay. Who will be wearing the shoes?”

“The players. Oh.”

“Indeed. So maybe start with people instead of shoes. How many players on a professional basketball team?”

“Twelve. And we’ll need a manager, and at least three coaches….”

“and what about a guy to manage endorsements at the team level?”

And now they are cooking with gas, telling me what they need to staff the team, what prices seem reasonable for a “basketball farm team, these are high school players, they’ll be chill with maybe $500 a season”. I walk away, and ten minutes later they come back to me asking if I know how they can put this “in a file or we’ll lose this paper with our notes.” I bring up Excel, they carefully enter all their data.

A bit later, one of them comes over to me and says “I took this class on Excel when I was a freshman and you could, like, add things up?” So I look at what they have, and suggest that they create one column for count and one for price, so they could then change values and automatically change the sums and they caught on and by god if they didn’t have a damn spreadsheet with personnel variables and starting costs entered, ready for tweaking. They were brainstorming equipment and facility costs by the end of class.

Do not imagine, dear reader, that these two boys will come on time to class tomorrow, ready to jump in and pick up where they left off. More likely, they will cut class one day, get pulled out for some activity on another, and by the time they get back to it will have forgotten the file name and where they emailed it. Still, for 45 minutes, these kids did productive work, thinking about what they’d need to create a small business. Count it in the win column, once I pushed the right buttons.

There’s a larger point in this story somewhere, about the degree of scaffolding low ability, low incentive kids need to do any sort of project based work. The teacher had put together a good lesson, too: achievable, relevant, and interesting. But many of the kids would need far more support—leading questions and a project broken down into key milestones, Excel templates for business plans and budgets, and so on. And as always, I am boggled by the gap between the idiots calling for project based learning which is, to their thinking, essential to modern education, and the actual students who simply don’t have the ability or motivation to meaningfully engage in the learning required for the projects as they are currently envisioned.

But it’s late and I’m pleased with the win, so I’ll stop here.


Fake Grades and Big Money: The KIPP “Pledges”

So I wrote about an alternative college admissions plan and apparently all anyone thinks I did was diss Asians. I mean, come on, that’s not all I did. Besides, I am not looking to dramatically reduce the Asian population at elite universities; whites and Asians (and some blacks and Hispanics) more interested in mastery than performance (that is, interested in content, not grades) will benefit equally. Eliminating grades from admissions decisions doesn’t hurt Asians much, but it goes a long way to discontinuing a tacit conspiracy between majority URM high schools (charters and comprehensives both) and universities to commit and accept grade fraud.

As an example: In the last year, the KIPP charter network inked partnerships with a number of public and private universities, committing the latter to “recruiting” a certain number of “KIPP graduates”, including scholarships .

I put “KIPP graduates” in quotes because neither of the articles linked makes it clear what graduates are to be recruited. Remember, to the extent that KIPP has been deemed successful (my own caveats here), the road stops at middle school. KIPP does have high schools, but they aren’t anything to get worked up about, and are rarely mentioned in the raves.

So who are the universities promising to recruit—KIPP high school graduates, or KIPP middle school graduates, when they finish high school some four years later? This seems a non-trivial point, but neither of the two stories makes the distinction. This memo of understanding between KIPP and Syracuse provides the necessary information:

So KIPP middle school graduates go to a comprehensive public high school, or another charter high school, and will be recruited by universities bound by the pledge.

How would those logistics work, exactly? Would these universities otherwise not go to these (non-KIPP) high schools to recruit and are only recruiting the KIPP alumni through KIPP networks, ignoring the other students at the same schools? Or would they otherwise recruit from these schools schools but are now committed to make a certain percentage of the recruits KIPP alumni, thus decreasing the chances for strong students that didn’t ever attend KIPP? Does either one of those options sound particularly fair to the other kids at those schools unlucky enough to be chosen by KIPP alumni? And shouldn’t the reporters find out which of those unappealing alternatives the universities have committed to?

Of course, KIPP high schools are exactly the sort of majority URM schools that commit grade fraud.

Take a look at KIPP’s report card, in which they publish some of their high schools’ average SAT scores:

School Average SAT Score/ACT Composite AP Test Rate AP Pass Rate % Matriculating
KIPP Houston 1426 80%* 68% 97%
KIPP Pride (NC) 1399 56% 18% 94%
KIPP Delta (Ark) 18 89% 7% 89%
KIPP Newark 19 42% 2% 96%

Houston’s almost 1500 average is relatively impressive, but only considering the demographic. (That is, the “No Excuses” school of thought will have to accept an excuse.) The rest are exceptionally low. Of course, that’s an average. My guess is that the range of scores for any one school is narrow, because otherwise KIPP high schools are turning out blacks and Hispanics who have excellent SAT scores and not mentioning it. Yeah, unlikely. And of course, in that scenario, they are also turning out far below average candidates, even for blacks and Hispanics, and those students would likely have been “counseled out” of KIPP long ago. So it’s likely the students’ SAT scores are all clustered fairly tightly.

So here is exactly what I mean when I talk about grade fraud. I suppose it’s possible that these schools are handing out only Cs, Ds, and Fs to go along with those mediocre SAT/ACT scores. But more likely, many students are getting As and Bs in AP classes when in fact they can barely break 470 on any section of the SAT and are only passing AP tests *if they are Hispanics taking the AP Spanish test. If they’d been going to a suburban school would have been flunking most classes and never been allowed near AP classes unless the school had swallowed the Jay Mathews Koolaid. But on paper, they look impressive, and have all sorts of classes on their transcripts that give them cover for admission, particularly for public universities. Of course, they’ll end up in remediation, but so what? KIPP gets bragging rights.

I don’t know if KIPP alumni who went to other, non-KIPP high schools are doing better. KIPP did release the college graduation data as part of their College Completion Report, but not the average SAT score. As I’ve said before, call me cynical, but I think they would have released the average SAT scores if they’d been well above average for blacks and Hispanics.

In their high schools, at least, KIPP schools are not turning out stellar candidates, and whatever they are managing to teach them isn’t translating to college admissions test scores normally worthy of entry to Duke, Brown, Georgtown and other elite universities who signed a pledge. But because KIPP is the rock star of the charter movement and many of their donors are connected alumni to these prestigious universities, doors open to KIPP alumni not because they are academically superior, but because of KIPP’s connections.

Is that how it’s supposed to work? A few low income black and Hispanic kids benefit not because they got a better education, not because they are, in fact, better educated than kids who attend comprehensive schools, but because KIPP’s cachet gives them pull with the right people?


An Alternative College Admissions System

I have a long post about Ron Unz’s essay, but I kept on getting bogged down in too much detail, and it’s five days later. So I decided instead to propose an alternative to his alternative admissions process:

Since essays, personal statements, lists of extracurricular achievements and so many other uniquely complex and time-consuming elements of the American admissions process would no longer exist, students could easily apply to long lists of possible colleges, ranking them in order of personal preference. Meanwhile, the colleges themselves could dispense with nearly their entire admissions staff, since the only remaining part of the admissions process would be determining the academic ranking of the tiny fraction of top applicants, which could be performed quickly and easily. Harvard currently receives almost 35,000 applications, which must each be individually read and evaluated in a massive undertaking, but applying a crude automatic filter of grades and test scores would easily winnow these down to the 1,000 plausible candidates for those 300 Inner Ring slots, allowing a careful evaluation of those highest-performing students on pure academic grounds.

Note to Mr. Unz: Pure academic grounds simply can’t include grades. Besides, your method preserves the exclusivity of the top schools without requiring them to give up anything in return. Is there no way for any other school to break through, if the same group of schools get the top candidates?

So here’s my alternative.

Admissions:

  • All students must apply for consideration in one of five categories: Academic, Specialist (artist, language study, musician, actor what have you), Sports, Foreign National, and Development (people who pay a lot of money, legacy, disabled students who are asking for consideration).
  • Public colleges and universities must limit their admissions to non-remedial, citizen students. Practically, this means community college students at 450 per SAT section, lower tier universities at 550 per section, and top-tier universities to 600 per section. Or equivalent ACT scores. Or another test that hasn’t been invented yet. We need a more competitive market in tests; right now most test requirements should include the phrase “and so shovel still more taxpayer millions into the College Board’s pockets”. (What, you didn’t know how much federal money goes to pay AP fees?)
  • All admissions data is public information: test scores, biographical data, application/admit category (see above). Average SAT scores per university for white legacies, for Asians for blacks, for Hispanics, for Chinese, for whites from West Virginia, for black athletes, for Asian lacrosse players, whatever.
  • Employers have access (with permission) to college application data. It’s time to test Griggs.

  • Either universities pay for test score reports or they end admissions fees. Both would be nice.

Candidate Biography/History:

  • In: Parental education, parental income, race.
  • Out: Everything else, including GPA, transcripts, internships, what they did on summer vacation, jobs, favorite books, and admissions essay.
  • Specialist and Sports candidates have a separate portfolio. Presumably, development legacy candidates are given an amount to fill in on their checks.

Testing, all four year colleges (public or private):

  • SAT/ACT/alternate test to be named later
  • Four Subject Tests: Math 2c, English Lit, US History, Choice of Science.
  • New test series: Students sit for three 2-essay tests: English lit/composition, current affairs/history, and science/math. Prompts vary—say, student could get either free response or the AP DBQ, or some other form of essay question. Essays are graded on two 10-point scales, one for quality of response, one for mechanics and writing quality.
  • Universities can require other tests from Specialists.

That’s it. Students fill out a brief form, take the tests, and select the schools to get the scores.

Anticipated questions:

  1. What, no elimination of legacies or affirmative action?

    Universities blatantly do an end run about any attempt to curb either practice. My method requires absolute transparency, which will be much more useful. Besides, giving prospective employers access to college admissions data will once and for all prove whether elitist universities trump actual abilities: will employers prefer a black Harvard grad with 1800 SAT and an average 500 Subject test score, or a white state college grad with a 2200 SAT and average Subject test scores of 750?

  2. What, no foreign language test requirement?

    Foreign language tests should be reserved for students who are applying in the Specialist category for their facility in learning non-native languages. Why, you ask? Here’s the number and score distribution of all SAT Subject foreign language testers. Here’s the number and score distribution of all SAT Subject foreign language testers who studied for 2-4 years—mostly, but not all, non-native speakers of the foreign language. Can anyone tell me why we’re giving a gimmee to Hispanics, Chinese, and Koreans? Bryan Caplan has his head stuffed up his posterior on immigration, but he’s dead on about foreign language study in high school. Foreign language testing in this country has become a joke. It needs to stop.

  3. Why no admissions essay?

    Oh, come on. Public universities use them as yet another workaround state affirmative action bans. The Chinese and the rich have someone else write the essays. Sophomoric admissions directors pick their favorite sob stories and bias the results. The essay tests will be better. No doubt, the Asians will figure out how to cram for them, but it’ll be a lot tougher and cost them a lot more money. Plus, it will really hurt foreign admissions.

  4. Again. Why aren’t you banning affirmative action?
    If the transparency argument doesn’t do it for you, then I offer up my requirement of a public university SAT/ACT/other test score basement. As elite colleges have become ever more competitive and expensive, state schools should be an affordable alternative that still provide a good education. Instead, they’re drowning under a flood of unqualified, often near-illiterate, certainly innumerate students. Getting out of a decent state school usually requires 5-6 years now, simply because the schedule is too crowded with remedial classes. Lower division educational quality is often abysmal because the universities are highly committed to graduate anyone who does manage to escape remediation, even if they can’t factor a quadratic or read at an 8th grade level. So actually qualified students mark time and wait for openings until they get to upper level courses, where things are a bit better.

    State schools will improve dramatically with those score basements. They might not have the prestige, but qualified students can choose a state school instead of drowning in debt and know their peers will be equally competent and the needs of qualified students won’t be subordinated to an ideological obsession with equal access.

    Great idea, you say, but how does this affect affirmative action? Well, only 6% of African Americans get over 600, 23% over 500, and barely 40% over 450 on any section of the SAT. (Cite). As is always the case, Hispanics are just a bit better, but not much. An SAT/ACT limit will annihilate public universities’ ability to commit affirmative action; URMs with scores above 600 will be heavily courted by the privates.

    Given that most public universities have a remedial score requirement around the level I’m proposing, they will be hard pressed to argue that the test basement isn’t valid. Students can simply go to community college until they can achieve the necessary score. And if they can’t hit 450 per test, they shouldn’t be going to college at all. Hopefully, that will be enough for the inevitable disparate impact lawsuit.

  5. What’s your problem with grades?
    I’ve written before about the problem with grades on the URM side of things (The Problem with Fraudulent Grades, Homework and Grades, and a bit in The Parental Diversity Dilemma). But I haven’t written directly on the issues with grades and Asians.

    Yes, I understand that Asians, as a group (but specifically Chinese, Koreans, and Indians), outperform whites on tests. But the overrepresentation of Asians in colleges is explained more by their dominance in GPA than it is test scores. And that’s harder to fix. It’s easy enough to tell white kids with high test scores to go to test prep and maximize their scores, but by junior year, the GPA damage has been done. Public universities use grades as a workaround for affirmative action. Private universities—and here, I’m just guessing, but it’s a reasonable guess—have one grade standard for “development” and affirmative action but then, in order to keep their overall numbers up, they need extraordinary high GPAs from the students who don’t fall into their discount categories.

    And so, grades become phenomenally important to admissions. Little room for, say, the idiosyncratic white boy who scores 2250/34 on the SAT/ACT, scored 4s and 5s in 7 AP tests, got 780, 730, and 690 on the US History, English Lit, and Math 2c, but whose weighted GPA is a 3.8, unless he’s a legacy. Lots of room for kids with 4.2 GPAs, regardless of their AP scores, and here, Asians win over whites in a huge way.

    So just raise the GPA, you say. White parents need to raise their expectations for their own kids. Unless the white kid is ruthlessly driven and competitive on his own volition, parental pressure as a means of raising his or her grades to the degree needed to compete with Asians is a non-starter. Amy Chua isn’t kidding. If a white parent tried to drive her kid the way Amy Chua did hers, the kid would end up in therapy, and the therapist would make the parent stop. Asian parenting techniques are abusive in white people world. Full stop. (What disgusts me most about Chua’s story is not her own behavior, as she doesn’t know any better, but that her white husband stood by and let her abuse her daughters. But then, I’m a white parent.) Not only does this difference between white and Asian cultural expectations lead to lower GPAs for whites, but smart white kids with B averages are then denied access to AP classes (in most Asian schools, access to AP is strictly limited by GPA), which put even a lower ceiling on their GPA.

    And finally, understand that those Asian good grades do not necessarily translate to a well-educated student. Here I offer anecdata, but it’s a lot of anecdata. As my primary second job, I teach enrichment at a private educational company (aka, an Asian cram school), which over seven years adds up to a lot of Asian high school students. I love them. They’re great kids. But my experience has taught me to question any straightforward comparison between white and Asian academic credentials. All of my enrichment kids, as sophomores, are taking honors English and pre-calc. Maybe 10% of them can reliably read a complex text and offer an interesting or informed analysis without referring to Wikipedia and repeating verbatim what they read there, and in seven years and probably 300 kids I have never once had a student who could explain the derivation of the quadratic formula (that is, the generalized case for completing the square). I also teach an AP US History prep course every year, at two different locations, to a dozen students per class. All but a few kids each year will have taken six months of APUSH by the time my class starts, and fewer than a quarter of them have ever known who wrote the Federalist papers, or the most important achievement of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, when the class begins. Very few of them can even make a stab at naming the presidents in order, or even identify any of the “forgettable” presidents. These are kids attending public schools with some of the highest SAT averages in the country, more than a few of them topping out at 2400.

    In comparison, I’ve tutored and taught (as a public school teacher and a tutor) a lot of bright white kids. Their awareness and retention of their own education, including the above benchmark questions, is far superior, on average. Many white soulless swotters and creative inquisitive Korean eccentrics exist to skew the stereotype. But the betting goes the other way.

    Grades are lies at the bottom end of the scale and culturally skewed beyond all recognition to reality at the top end. Unless or until we move to a system in which grades are taken out of teachers’ hands and determined by outside standardized tests, grades must be eliminated from any truly meritocratic admissions process. End rant.

    I’ve been focusing on whites and Asians regarding concerns at the top end of the GPA problem, but: 1) bright Hispanic and black kids are far more like white kids than Asians, but they are rarer and are going to write their own tickets regardless; 2) just as Asian test performance may overstate their abilities, black test performance may understate their abilities because the tests focus too much on abstraction and generalized situations—and yes, I know that thus far, SAT scores show black underperformance. It’s just a hunch I have. That’s another reason I want to see a more competitive test market, to determine if the bottom half of the ability spectrum is tested accurately.

So there’s my plan. I think it’s preferable to Unz’s in that it allows universities more agency and the public more transparency. They shouldn’t be bound to a lottery. But they also shouldn’t be allowed to lie or fudge about their admissions process. Public universities shouldn’t be allowed to pursue their ideological romanticisms at taxpayer expense.

I also think my plan, or something like it, allows excellent students to thrive in any number of environments, rather than being forced to go into debt to prove they are worthy of one of the few slots an elite campus holds open after the mandatory legacy, athletics, diversity, and foreign student spots are all filled in. We really need to get control of our public university system again and stop using these schools to pretend that any illiterate can get a college degree if he or she just jumps through enough hoops.